Gently holding the green stem of a softly petalled red poppy, I walk slowly through the white gates. My boots sink into the thick, soft green lawn under my feet that surrounds me. A beautiful perfectly formed elm tree whose limbs reached out and shades the corner next to where I stand. I head for its shade. This is one of the many extremely hot days in which I have been walking the Via Francigena and the weather is draining. I had just passed through the empty little village of Gomiecourt in the French countryside, I think  the villagers were not interested in coming out in the heat. All the shades on their windows are pulled down and the beautiful gardens of roses and hydrangeas that line their fences wilt under the hot midday sun.  

It is a heat wave in June across Europe, not an ideal time to be hiking. For a moment I take relief in the shade of the Elm tree, and throw my backpack to the ground. So much cooler or am I imagining it. My eyes gaze to what is before me, perfectly formed lines of white headstones. I try and count how many there are, multiplying how many are in each row, then count how many rows before multiplying. 

The trail today had lead me to one of many 1st world war cemeteries I will come across. It was edged with masses of delicate red poppies they call Flanders poppies. Their petals look so delicate that they could float away if there was a gentle breeze, but they are so strong and hold on tight to the main stem. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time that made me reach down and pick a single poppy, but I did and now entered the cemetery gently holding it in my hot swollen fingers.

My intention was to place the poppy on the large cross on a pedestal in the middle of the graves. It stood high above the graveyard and could be seen from some way away.  I moved from under the shade of the tree that for years had watched over the graves, planted its deep roots firmly in the rich fertile soil  of this sacred spot. I squinted as I moved out of the shade and strolled up and down the rows of headstones, reading the names of men and boys from England, Scotland and Yorkshire, all thinking they were off on an adventure of a lifetime, until the realisation would become very clear, it was not. I wondered what their thoughts had been in that moment.

As I slowly moved around I stopped at a headstone that read “ Known only to God”. Emotions were now flowing strongly for me as here I thought of my own gorgeous son who now has a beautiful son of his own, my daughter’s gorgeous boy, all starting to find their place in the world. I thought of my own family of boys back home and as a mother I could not even imagine what loosing a son would be like, let alone not knowing where he was buried. 

My tears were for all the mothers, who’s sons did not return.

So as I stood and looked at the pale white headstone near a beautiful town in the French countryside, surrounded by yellow and green farm fields I knew my red poppy had found its home. A home next to the soldier who was not only “known to god” but known to a mother with a family of boys from a far away land.

As I continue on to weave a thread following the trail that would lead me further into France, onto Switzerland and into Italy I reached the top of a rise, slowly I turned and looked back to see the rivers of flame red poppies weaving their way through the beautiful countryside. A river which once had overflowed with the flame red blood of a Mother’s Boy.