When Lynn Berry and her sister-in-law Margaret Knight began knitting poppies to honour their fathers’ service during the Second World War, they had no idea it would capture the public imagination and inspire tens of thousands of people around the world.
Little did they know that what began as their small personal tribute five years ago would grow into a massive community tribute of respect and remembrance that would take them to the battlefields of France, lead them to meeting the Queen, and culminate in a moving display of 62,000 poppies as part of a five-week commemorative program at the Australian War Memorial to mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War.
In 2013, Lynn and Margaret set out to make a modest 120 woollen poppies to “plant” at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne for Remembrance Day to honour their fathers: Wal Beasley, of the 14/32nd Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force; and Stan Knight, of the Queen’s Own West Kent Regiment in the British Army.
For Lynn, a fabric and textile artist from Melbourne whose grandmother taught her to knit when she was five years old, it was a deeply personal project to pay tribute to her late father.
“He never talked about the war,” Lynn said. “He had malaria during the war, so he came back very unwell, and he had bouts of malaria through his life, but as children we never knew that. We knew Dad might have been a little ill, but we didn’t really know why … He thought it was just better to get on with it [so] he came home, got married, had a large family and contributed to society in the way that men did, and he just got on with it, and he was a wonderful man, so for me to be able to honour his service in this way, was pretty special.”
When people saw Lynn and Margaret making their poppies, they became intrigued and wanted to know more.
“People started to say to us: ‘We’d love to join you. Can my mum make some? Can my sister make some? Can my grandmother make some?’ And I said to Margaret, ‘This could be a much bigger project if we wanted it to be.’
“She told me that I was mad, and that it was going to be bigger than Ben Hur.”