PETER FROST has had two different reminders of the Crimean War.
The Crimean war has been back in the news this month. Education Secretary – and history dunce – Michael Gove has done another U-turn and we can all be relieved that Mary Seacole, one of the greatest ever black Britons is to remain on the National Curriculum.
Mary Seacole a nurse who cared for soldiers during the Crimean War was one of the first and most prominent black figures in British history.
Mr Gove, it seems, planned to replace Mary Seacole with more traditional Tory figures, such as Winston Churchill.
A huge campaign including a petition signed by more than 35,000 people was just one reason Gove changed his mind.
Coincidentally I am always reminded of the Crimean War at this time of year but for a much more prosaic reason. Drifts of snowdrops normally paint the winter woodlands white at this time of year and they have a amazing link with the Crimea.
For me the delicate nodding white flowers, piercing frozen earth, herald the arrival of spring. Others declare them to be the last flower of winter.
Amazingly there are over two thousand different types of snowdrop, or galanthus growing wild in our countryside and in our gardens.
There are even snowdrop clubs and snowdrop societies and today rare and exotic bulbs change hands for large sums of money.
Many of the more interesting snowdrop varieties were introduced to Britain during and just after the Crimean War. Out of the horror of one of Britain’s worst examples of Imperialism and military incompetence has come this tiny but beautiful addition to our native flora.
British soldiers found themselves fighting in the rugged hills of what today is the Ukraine. Jingoistic propaganda convinced them they were there to tame the Russian Bear.
In July 1853 Russian territories in the Crimea that had previously been controlled by Turkey Britain and France. France decided to do something about Russian expansionism.
After the Russians destroyed the Turkish fleet at Sinope in the Black Sea in November 1853, Britain and France joined the war against Russia.
The war was hard and diseases like cholera and malaria took a greater toll of British troops than did the Russian guns.
The famous Charge of the Light Brigade was perhaps the classic example of an incompetent and uncaring officer class using the fighting man a cannon fodder. It still happens today.
In the midst of all the horror of war came the hard Crimean winter and with it came the miracle of the snowdrops. These pretty and delicate flowers flourished in the harsh Crimean snows.
Snowdrops grew wild near the terrible blood stained battlefields of the Crimean pensinsula and British soldiers, homesick for their gardens collected the tiny bulbs to bring home or to slip into letters to their wives and sweethearts.
You find them today planted on the graves of soldiers of the Crimean War. Specialist lists of snowdrops still have varieties named after fighting men of that war.
Huge naturalised swathes of the tiny flowers are found in areas with rich military history and traditions.
The flower’s delicate and fragile beauty must have been a small comfort and contrast to the horror of war. Returning soldiers planted the tiny bulbs and enough survived to change the nature of our countryside forever.
Officers, as well as enlisted men, brought home the bulbs too and many a stately home has its drift of the tiny white flowers transplanted from the shores of the Black Sea.
So if enough of the snow melts this weekend try to get out to see the snowdrops. Remember another group of British working men sent to die in a pointless foreign war.
And remember too the brave Mary Seacole who bought healing and comfort to both sides in the battles among the snowdrops on the battlefields of the Crimea.
Micheal Gove? I think perhaps we should confine him to the dustbin of history.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star