The skies were gray and a cold breeze swept through campus as students and veterans alike stood along Lake Thunderduck near Fannin Hall for a special Veteran’s Day event. It was the commemoration of the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. The ceremony at Richland on Nov. 12 coincided with the installation of a plaque and new ceramic poppies as part of “The Blood of Heroes Never Dies” art installation.
Organized by Richland history professor Dr. Clive Siegle and art faculty member Jen Rose, the event served as a platform for students to learn more about the significance of the poppy during Remembrance Day.
Siegle and Rose shared their thoughts with the audience. Rose explained how the project began in 2015, and that the Richland project inspired the city of Georgetown to start a similar project in their town. Siegle detailed the origins of Remembrance Day and how the poppy became its symbol. Afterward, the Richland choir performed “America the Beautiful” as the guest veterans placed new ceramic poppies by the lake and gave their respects to those involved in historical combat.
Since its initial installation, Siegle, Rose and the Richland community have commemorated the 5,171 Texas soldiers who were deployed from 1917 to 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson by recognizing their service, sacrifice and bravery during The Great War (1914-18), which later became known as World War I. The event draws heavily from Remembrance Day, which takes place on Nov. 11 in the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly referred to as the British Empire).
Siegle explained how the poppy inspired the art installation.
“The poppy is becoming a lost symbol here in America. The poem on which the holiday is based upon originally came from America by a Canadian poet. Now only European countries know what the poppies mean,” Siegle said. “Just like the actual holiday, the event centers on the symbolism of the poppy flower, in direct reference to John McCrae’s 1918 poem, ‘In Flanders Field,’ which famously depicts an abandoned battlefield swarmed by poppies.”
During Remembrance Day, each poppy represents a soldier lost in combat. The Richland founders adopted the custom by creating ceramic poppies with the help of many passionate volunteers. The ambitious project has given students a new perspective on the impact of WWI. Rose shared some feedback she received as a result of the project.
“When working with the poppies, students said that they felt happy. It allowed [the project coordinators] to bridge many people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures, especially now during this current political climate,” Rose said.
The great war was meant to be “The War to End All Wars,” a phrase attributed to British author H.G. Wells. Around the globe, nations took sides and carried arms, as soldiers valiantly marched toward the battlefields filled with pride and the duty to serve. Unaware of the horrors that awaited deep in the muddy trenches of the western and eastern fronts, soldiers faced numerous perils throughout the four-year war.
By the end, new nations arose while others disintegrated, soldiers became physically and mentally scarred and the development of new technologies contributed to high casualty numbers. Roughly 10 million soldiers lost their lives fighting for their flag, their country and their ideals. “The Blood of Heroes Never Dies” honors those lives.