Service buttons needed to remember our fallen

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), Ledy Rowe (photographer)

Location(s): Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Topic(s): Remembrance Day, Australian War Memorial

The poppies at the Australian War Memorial will be the culmination of more than a million hours of volunteer work over the last five years, and a true labour of love. (photo: CMDR Fenn Kemp)
The poppies at the Australian War Memorial will be the culmination of more than a million hours of volunteer work over the last five years, and a true labour of love.

Navy members present and past are being encouraged to send in their old dress uniform buttons as part of an ambitious project to commemorate those who died in World War One.

Every week, hundreds of volunteers gather at sites around Australia to create poppies that will make up a stunning tribute at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. They are part of the 5000 Poppies Project, a nationwide community tribute of respect and remembrance.

The Canberra Chapter meets every second Sunday at the aptly named Poppy’s Café at the Australian War Memorial. In front of them are bags of crafted red flowers, sticks and green yarn. It’s quite the social occasion but each of the volunteers is hard at work. They have a deadline to meet. 

Canberra organiser Ledy Rowe says the team are helping to create 62,000 handcrafted poppies to ‘plant’ at the Australian War Memorial for Remembrance Day 2018, to commemorate Centenary of Armistice.  

“The tribute will comprise one poppy for each Australian who died in World War I,” Ledy explained.

“The installation will be in situ from 5 October to 12 November in the lawns surrounding the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden and the green space in front of the Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial.” 

Each poppy has been made by a member of the public. One woman made 67 of them – one for each day her father served on the Western Front before he was killed in action.

“It’s about commemorating all those who died protecting our nation,” Ledy said.

“It’s easy for people to focus on the mud, but the Navy lost large numbers too and they need to be honoured.”

A number of poppies have been set aside to commemorate Navy losses in WWI. The challenge now is to fill the centre of these poppies with a Navy button.

The first Australian servicemen to give their lives in the Great War were 35 crew members in Australia’s first submarine AE1. Their final resting place remained a mystery until the wreck was found off the coast of Papua New Guinea late last year. The 5000 Poppies team are particularly keen to plant poppies in their honour. 

“At this point, we don’t need more poppies, but we would be delighted to include Navy buttons in the installation in honour of those RAN members who have served,” Ledy said.

“It is important for the crew of AE1 to be remembered, as part of the staggering loss of Australian lives across all theatres in WWI.”

The 5000 Poppies project was created in 2013 by Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight initially as a tribute to their fathers who served in WWII.  Since then it has grown into an international outpouring of respect and remembrance, with poppies pouring in from all over the globe.

In total, some 50,000 contributors have handcrafted more than half a million poppies, with a number of major tribute installations in Melbourne, London and Fromelles, France throughout the Centenary of WWI.  

The Project has been a wonderful opportunity for the community to become involved in creating an outstanding tribute to our servicemen and women, their families and their communities, and has encouraged contributors to research their own family histories, and to take a more careful look at the plaques and histories of their own towns.

Send your buttons to former WRAN and Canberra Team member:

Mrs Jane Hiatt
9 Dougharty Place

More information about the 5000 Poppies Project can be found on the 5000 Poppies blog,