Monday, 11 November 2013

Elephant No. 70: From the Archives—Poppy Collage

Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada, so I thought I'd make a collage using poppy images for today's elephant. An elephant never forgets, and neither should we.

Remembrance Day is observed in Canada, and in countries throughout the Commonwealth, every November 11. In some countries it is called Armistice Day or Poppy Day, and is marked by the wearing of lapel poppies as a mark of respect and remembrance. In the United States, although the poppy is not worn, November 11 is observed as Veteran's Day.

Canadian Remembrance Day poppy.

British Remembrance Day poppy.

The First World War ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and each year 11:00 a.m. is marked with two minutes of silence. Interestingly, at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, a small window aligned with the Sun's movements casts a beam of light on the headstone of Canada's Unknown Soldier at precisely 11:00 a.m. each November 11.

The poppy as a symbol of Remembrance Day derives from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. McCrae was a Canadian surgeon during the First World War, and wrote the poem on a battlefield following the death of a close friend. The poem is something Canadian children often learn in school, and many of us can probably recite the first few lines from memory.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sadly, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae died in early 1918 of pneumonia. He was buried with full military honours in the Commonwealth Cemetery at Wimereux, near Boulogne, France. 

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

Today's elephant is a simple collage—a process that involves nothing more than cutting out images and pasting them to a sheet of paper. I wasn't sure a red elephant made only of poppies would work without looking a mite too cartoonish, but it was something I really wanted to try.

Because it's Remembrance Day and I wanted to use poppies, I downloaded poppy images from a wide range of sources. Because I'm going to alter them beyond recognition, I haven't included the sources here.

I thought about sketching something, but decided instead to just let the collage evolve. I started, as I often do, with the elephant's topline.

Once I can more or less see the outline of the elephant in my mind, it becomes easy enough to start filling things in.

This actually took nearly two hours. It's surprisingly difficult to find whole poppies in the right sizes and shapes, and I didn't want to reprint or resize anything. In the trunk area in particular, there is quite a lot of layering.

Today's elephant is dedicated to all of my friends and family, past and present, who have been willing to lay down their lives for the rest of us—in places I would never want to go, and under circumstances I would never want to face. "Thanks" will never be a big enough word.

Elephant Lore of the Day

The use of war elephants originates in India sometime between 1000 and 500 B.C. Heavily armoured elephants were a key part of most large battles, often leading the charge against the enemy. Towards the end of this period, as civilizations advanced, Indian kingdoms developed a four-part military system: infantry, elephants, chariots and archers.

When Alexander the Great began his invasion of India in 326 B.C., it was the first time a western military had encountered elephants on the field of battle. After crossing the Indus River, Alexander and his troops were faced with a massive army led by Porus, ruler of the Punjab. Although the Indian army were master charioteers and archers, the most frightening aspect of the military force facing the Greeks was the war elephants. 

Outmanoeuvred by Alexander, and with his chariots stuck in the mud, Porus sent his infantry and elephants against the Greek forces. Although the Greek army was a disciplined and well-armoured force, the elephants with their bronze facial armour terrified the Greeks and their horses.  

However, although the elephants killed many of the Greeks, the Indian infantry was no match for Alexander's soldiers. The Indians took shelter near the elephants; unfortunately, the elephants were distressed by the many wounds they had suffered, and became enraged, trampling the men sheltering around them. The Greek cavalry circled around behind the Indian army and won the battle. 

Although Alexander's forces had won this battle, they refused to march farther east, afraid that even bigger Indian armies might await them, likely with thousands of war elephants. The Greeks turned around and headed back home. 

For centuries, Indian armies used war elephants, and the four military divisions: chariots, infantry, archers and elephants remained. Because of their thick skin, elephants needed less armour than horses and men, and were a terrifying sight on any field of battle. Along with being the first people in the world to use war elephants, Indians were also the last, using them right into the nineteenth century.

Battle at Lanka from the Ramayana by Sahib Din, ca. 1649–1653
Collection of the British Library, London

To Support Elephant Welfare

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