A splash of red

For the UK, the poppy has become the symbol of the war dead. In France it is the bleuet (cornflower), the nickname given to raw recruits.

Photo ©Andrew Hill


A splash of red, a dab of blue,

whichever hue

a symbol rings,

death still stings.

The earth is still, the furrows laid

by plough and spade

are full of bones.

No modern tears will stop the flow

relentless, slow,

lives flown like birds,

killed with weasel words.

Where the end, the peaceful calm,

the air like balm

for ugly wounds?

They whisper low,

the friend and foe,

where in the ground,

without a sound,

the roots dig deep

about their sleep.

The least of them could tell us why

they had to die,

forever lie

in foreign soil.

No flesh, they say, caught on the wire,

is proof against machine gun fire,

against the bullets’ play.

But no one can say.

why they, why then,

why so many men.

Too many broken hearts would break again.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

15 thoughts on “A splash of red”

    1. Thank you, Michael! Without wishing to try and diminish the gratitude we should feel towards all war veterans, I do think that the 11th of November is special to the memory of all those child soldiers, fathers of families, ordinary men who were sent into the mouth of hell for reasons that remain very spurious.

      1. Yes, and here the families (not just of the enlisted) are often on public assistance as the pay is hardly enough to live on.

      2. Something that’s hard to understand—so much is made of the debt to the servicemen and women, the pride, the sacrifice etc etc and yet they seem to be living in misery. Hypocrisy or what?

      3. The massive budget goes to the products produced by the military industrial complex, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, that cost millions each piece, while they squabble over infrastructure like water systems, roads, and crumbling public school.
        Yep, hypocrisy is one word for it.

      4. And the personnel are dumped when they are no longer of any use. There’s no reason to suppose that the US government would behave any differently to any other, but they do make rather a sentimental display of love and gratitude.

  1. It’s shocking that the war injured and the families berieved must rely on a charity for support, rather than the government they gave limbs and life for. Shows just how much their country really valued their sacrifice. Instead they get a minute’s silence every year. I’m sure that comforts the bereaved and starving. Well, we have lived past that now, no more veterans of that era to support, just memories to honour. Which your poem does beautifully. I’ve never seen a cornflower. I had no idea how vibrant they are. Do they really grow together with the poppy, or is that just the artifice of man? I read that blue is a rare colour in terms of natural flora so somehow that makes it a fitting way to remember the fallen.

    1. You’ve never seen a cornflower???? The edges of wheat fields are full of them. They grow with the poppies and make a beautiful show, as long as the fields aren’t treated with pesticides the farmer doesn’t plough right up to the field boundaries. We do have a terribly hypocritical attitude towards soldiers, making heroes of them when they die, but refusing to look after them when they are invalided. The outpourings of sentiment over the ‘glorious war dead’ leave me cold. They didn’t want to die, and though hundreds of thousands volunteered, when news of what war was really like filtered back, the volunteering dried up. Understandably. It was a terrible tragic mess, and those men and boys wanted more than anything not to be there, in Flanders’ fields, they wanted to go home.

    1. It was probably because of the colour of the uniforms that were traditionally blue, hence calling new recruits bleuet, also the French name for the cornflower which grows alongside the poppies at the edge of ploughed land. Premonitory.

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