News / Hamilton

Flanders poppies found in McMaster University's war collection

Nestled between the fragile pages is a flash of faded red.

In the opened book, the petals are easily identifiable. Thin like tissue paper, stem and all, a poppy faces upward.

Librarians for McMaster University's special collections and archives discovered several of the flowers this week, preserved in a travel diary by the wife of a Canadian soldier.

“It's an amazing connection to the veterans of this time period,” says associate librarian Wade Wyckoff. “We still use the poppy as a symbol of remembering. To see it pressed in there is a powerful thing.”

Wyckoff believes the 76-year-old poppies originated from Flanders fields.

The book housed at the school's Mills Memorial Library is part of a collection of material on the 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage. That's when thousands of Canadian veterans and their families, along with French soldiers and even King Edward VIII attended the July 16, 1936, unveiling and commemoration of the war memorial in France.

Vimy Ridge is “the battle that's iconic with Canadian nationalism, but not many people know about the pilgrimage,” ” says librarian Rick Stapleton, holding an aerial photograph of the ceremony.

The collection includes an official program, guide and a special passport issued for the event. It expired on Aug. 1 of that year and belonged to veteran George Muir and his wife, Leta Dalton. She wrote her name in the inside cover of the book, where it's believed she placed the poppies.

“She had some emotional connection to them,” says Wyckoff, “There's no way of telling what Mrs. Muir was thinking — or any of the veterans who returned to the battlefield 20 years later.”

Wyckoff says library staff will eventually remove the flowers from the book and encapsulate them.

The public can drop in to see them, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“It's an interesting discovery,” says Wyckoff. “It's one of the fun things of the job.”

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