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.”