In the aftermath of the horrific trench warfare of the First World War, the poppy – sprouting across the killing fields of France and Belgium, then immortalized in John McCrae’s moving poem – became a worldwide icon. Yet the poppy has a longer history, as the tell-tale sign of human cultivation of the land, of the ravages of war, and of the desire to escape the earthly realm through opium dreams or morphine drips. From the ancient Egyptian fights over prized potions to the addicts of the American Civil War, to the British entanglements in the Opium Wars with China and the struggle to end Afghanistan’s tribal narcotics trade, there is the poppy.
Nicholas J. Saunders is the world's leading authority on the anthropology and archaeology of the First World War. His exhibition of trench art was for five years a centrepiece of the 'In Flanders Fields Museum'