'I just wanted to say thank you'

10 October 2018 by Claire Hunter

Nadine Greenaway

Nadine Greenaway: "I think it’s important to remember what they did."

When Nadine Greenaway began knitting poppies after a chance encounter on the battlefields of northern France, she was thinking of the soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. For her, it was deeply personal.

“I’m from France, so it’s saying thank you to them for what they did for France,” she said quietly.

“At school we learnt a little bit, but we didn’t know that the Australians were involved so much in the war. It’s just when you go there to the Somme that you can actually see that there were so many Australians and New Zealanders there as well.

“When I went there four years ago it was mind-blowing. They had done so much, and the people there are still saying thank you to Australia to this day, so I just wanted to say thank you to the Australians for what they did for the French people.”

Greenaway is one of 50,000 volunteers from around the world who have been busy knitting and crocheting woollen poppies as part of the 5,000 Poppies project.

Co-founders Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight started the project as a small personal tribute to their fathers’ service during the Second World War; but it soon captured the public imagination and became a worldwide community project, culminating in a moving tribute of 62,000 handcrafted poppies at the Australian War Memorial.

The powerful display has transformed 4,000 square metres of the Memorial grounds into a field of red with each handcrafted poppy symbolising one of the lives lost during the First World War.

It is part of the Memorial’s five-week commemorative program of events to mark the centenary of the Armistice on Remembrance Day 2018.

For Greenaway, seeing the poppies at the Memorial was particularly moving. She grew up on a dairy farm near Quimper in Brittany, France, and moved to Australia in the mid-1990s after falling in love with an Australian farmer while on an exchange in Canada.

She now runs a dairy farm in Gippsland in country Victoria with her husband, whose great-great-uncle was one of the 62,000 Australians who were killed during the First World War.

She became involved in the 5,000 Poppies project after visiting his grave in northern France and attending the dawn service at Villers-Bretonneaux on Anzac Day. It was there that she met a group of Australians who were involved in the project, including Canberran Ledy Rowe, who ended up on the same flight back to Singapore.

“On the plane on the way back home, she was making poppies,” Greenaway said. “I had a little girl – my daughter – with me and she was watching her, so she gave me one of her poppies and we exchanged details. She said, ‘I’m part of the 5,000 Poppies project and you can be involved if you want to,’ and that was that.”

Poppies

Greenaway soon began making her own poppies to honour the fallen and hasn’t stopped. Her own parents had survived the Second World War and the German invasion of France, but rarely spoke of it.

“Mum didn’t talk about it, but she was from that generation where you had to keep everything – you couldn’t chuck anything in the bin – and at that time, the Americans were flying down into Brittany,” she said. “So I’ve got some photos of my mum with her sisters wearing these dresses that they made out of the parachutes because it was like a silk fabric and they kept everything.”

Her mother also remembered hearing the planes fly over on their bombing missions.

“They had to duck down because Grandma – her mother – was scared it would be a bomb … and that’s the only thing I really heard about it, because they didn’t talk about it.”

But reminders of the Second World War and its aftermath were everywhere when she grew up. “Not far from home there was a beautiful pink castle – the one in the Tour de France – and the Germans took it over in the Second World War,” she said.

“It’s been renovated now, but before, you could see a really big hole in it, because the French people bombed the castle because the Germans were there.”

She remembers her great-aunt telling her about the war just before she passed away.

“One time my great-auntie was at a wedding, and they had to keep all the people inside the room because a German had been killed that day,” she said. “When a German was killed, they killed so many French people. But they got lucky that day, because no one got killed. They just had to stay in that room before they found the person who actually killed the German … but that was all she told me.”

Making the poppies was Greenaway’s way of remembering and honouring those who served and died protecting her homeland.

“It is important to remember, because they’ve been through so much and you have to thank them,” she said quietly. “Life wasn’t that easy … so I think it’s important to remember what they did.”

The 62,000 Poppies display will be open from 9 am to 10 pm daily from 5 October to 11 November as part of the Memorial’s five-week Honour their Spirit commemorative program marking the centenary of the Armistice on Remembrance Day 2018.

Read the story behind the 5,000 Poppies project here. Watch the videos here.