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Kew Gardens and the CWGC team up for a unique look at the Somme

Posted  19 May 2016 in News  
By Hannah Clark
Somme100 Kew with CWGC

In a distinctive and poignant tribute to the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to look at the Somme from a very different perspective.

Then – 1916

Kew’s longstanding relationship with the CWGC began in February 1916, before the Battle of the Somme had even begun. Thus, Kew’s wartime legacy is tied closely with that of the birth of the Commission. This places it in a unique position to tell the story of the First World War in a new light, focusing on the relationship between people, plants, conflict landscapes and remembrance.

Kew’s wartime Assistant Director, Arthur Hill (later ‘Sir Arthur’ in recognition of his internationally significant work) was given the honorary title of Botanical Advisor to the Commission and the temporary rank of Captain. In March 1916 he headed for France to complete the first of several trips to advise the Commission on planting within war graves cemeteries. Just as the Commission has provided respectful remembrance of lost soldiers, Sir Arthur and Kew helped pioneer the creation of the natural tranquillity which surrounds them.

Now – 2016

Taking inspiration from Sir Arthur’s travels on the Somme and his two little-known, poignant accounts – The Flora of the Somme Battlefield (1917) and Our Soldiers’ Graves (1919) – this June, three of Kew’s current staff (led by Dr James Wearn) will be meeting the CWGC’s Director of Horticulture (David Richardson) and members of the French CWGC team on the Somme.

Kew’s aim is to re-trace Sir Arthur’s footsteps in an emotive journey through the physical space and the psychology of plants and war. The visit will also be moving a tribute to the men of Kew who lost their lives on the battlefields in 1916.

On 6 July, a special event will be hosted at Kew, forming the culmination of the collaborative fieldwork and research between the two organisations.

Event on 6 July at Kew

An evening event will be held at Kew Gardens from 6pm on Wednesday 6 July. This will comprise a drinks reception, a welcome address by Kew’s Director, Richard Deverell, and two fascinating talks in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre (followed by a Q&A discussion).

For more information visit Kew’s website.

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