Winner of the 2017 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize for nature writing
The natural history of the Western Front during the First World War
'If it weren't for the birds, what a hell it would be.'
During the Great War, soldiers lived inside the ground, closer to nature than many humans had lived for centuries. Animals provided comfort and interest to fill the blank hours in the trenches - bird-watching, for instance, was probably the single most popular hobby among officers. Soldiers went fishing in flooded shell holes, shot hares in no-man's land for the pot, and planted gardens in their trenches and billets. Nature was also sometimes a curse - rats, spiders and lice abounded, and disease could be biblical.
But above all, nature healed, and, despite the bullets and blood, it inspired men to endure. Where Poppies Blow is the unique story of how nature gave the British soldiers of the Great War a reason to fight, and the will to go on.
John Lewis-Stempel is an award-winning writer predominantly known for his books on nature and history. He lives in Herefordshire, on the very edge of England before it runs into Wales, and within a stone's throw (with a decent gust of wind) from where his family farmed in the 1300s. His many books include the bestselling SIX WEEKS, about British frontline officers in the First World War, THE WAR BEHIND THE WIRE and MEADOWLAND, winner of the Thwaites Wainwright Prize for nature writing. His books have been published in languages as diverse as Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese, are available on all continents apart from Antarctica, and have sold more than a million copies. He has two degrees in history, writes books under the pen name Jon E. Lewis, is married with two children, and also farms.
'What makes Where Poppies Blow so freshly moving is the picture it paints of the reverence, love and kindness the natural world can engender, even in the most hellish conditions; as Philip Gosse of the Royal Army Medical Corps called it, "medicine for the mind and solace for the soul"' — Melissa Harrison, Financial Times
'In Where Poppies Blow, the nature writer, historian and farmer presents us with a beautiful and meticulous account of soldiers' relationship with nature . . . This book, which recounts the lives of our frontline soldiers from the ground up, is a truly wondrous and original work with an appeal far beyond military history' — Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express Christmas Books
'Wonderful, beautifully written and often deeply moving' — Lawrence James, The Times
'Makes an important contribution to the literature by studying the British soldiers' relationship with Nature . . . Moving, strangely life-affirming' — Clive Aslet, Country Life
'Manages what might have seemed impossible: to find a new perspective on the Great War' — Mark Smith, Glasgow Herald
'From traumatized, trench-bound British soldiers caught up in the carnage of the First World War, birdwatching and botany offered solace. So reveals John Lewis-Stempel in this riveting study drawing on verse, letters and field notes by men who served, from zoologist Dene Fry to poet Edward Thomas . . . A remarkable picture of a human bloodbath that took place amid phenomenally rich biodiversity' — Nature
'Deeply moving . . . I finished this book marvelling at nature's healing power' — Jonathan Tulloch, The Tablet
'But natural history did not go into suspense while war was waged. Where Poppies Blow notes that many of the Edwardian boys who ended up on the Western Front still collected birds' eggs and butterflies' — Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph
'Memorable' — Spectator
'One of the best nature writers to have come along in many years, John Lewis-Stempel turns his attention here to the relationship between soldiers and nature on the Western Front during the First World War' — John Preston, Daily Mail Christmas Books
'Nature writer and military historian John Lewis-Stempel has created a eulogy to the flora and fauna that helped men soldier on during the First World War . . . Where Poppies Blow is full of fascinating (sometimes heart-wrenching) information about the role of nature and animals in this brutal war' — Rachel Stiles, BBC Countryfile
'This charming book reminds us that flora and fauna weren't suspended by the First World War' - 5 stars — The Daily Telegraph
Unmissable...John Lewis Stempel is both a working farmer and a prizewinnig author. In early July, i heard him speak on first world war soldiers and their love of flowers and animals. I went straight off and read his excellent book, Where Poppies Blow, and I defy you not to be moved by its chapters on flowers and dogs. — Robin Lane Fox, FINANCIAL TIMES
Shows how important birdwatching was to officers in particular, and how this in turn fed back into post-war ornithology. It's an enthralling, and often moving, read, that sets the study and enjoyment of wildlife in a much wider context. — BIRD WATCHING
Ultimately, the depth and power of Where Poppies Blow is impossible to convey. It eludes review, but it begs to be read. — John Andrews, CAUGHT BY THE RIVER