It was a poignant poem printed in the local newspaper that caught Merril Jackson's eye, from a grieving mother back in 1923 that sparked an interest in what was to become the Poppy Project on the Central Coast in New South Wales.
With a university education in conservation practices and working in the field of death culture, and mourning practices, Merril Jackson had come across the poem, possibly written by Ellen Martin, grieving mother of Cyril Henry Martin who died at Fromelles in 1916, during World War One.
'He is buried away in France,
And his grave we may never see.
Will some kind friend in that distant land
Plant a flower on his grave for me?
We still seem to see his smiling face,
Through a mist of anxious tears;
But a mother's part is a broken heart,
And a burden of weary years.
It appeared in the Gosford Times on the 9th of August, 1923.
"... it was always my hope, after going through the Poppy Project for so many years, that one day I would go and fulfill Ellen Martin's wish, placing a flower on her son's grave."
The Gosford poppy wreath laid on Cyril Henry Martin's grave in France. Contributed: Merril Jackson
The Martin brothers, football lads from Matcham, were Harold 'Sno' and Cyril Henry and they both signed up in the Great War as part of the 53rd battalion that fought at Fromelles. They were ordered to go over the top on the first day of battle, on to an open field in direct line of enemy fire. A suicide mission.
Cyril found 'Sno' wounded on the battlefield. Cyril stayed by his side until Sno urged him to keep going. However, shortly after leaving his brother, Cyril was shot and wounded in the back by a sniper. Both men were rescued from the battlefield. Cyril was taken to the military hospital at Wimereux in northern France and Sno survived in a hospital in England. Cyril sadly, died from his wounds.
Ms Jackson had the opportunity in 2018 to go to France and visit Cyril's grave. Before leaving she visited Ellen and James' graves at Wamberal and took three stones with her to place at Cyril's final resting place. One each for James, Ellen and Sno. Ms Jackson also laid a poppy wreath, made by the Legacy ladies from Gosford. She was finally able to fulfill Ellen's wish of nearly 100 year ago, for someone to lay a flower on her son's grave.
The graves of Ellen and James Martin at Wamberal. Photo: Merril Jackson
With the support of Gosford City Council in Gosford 2015 and Terrigal 2016, Ms Jackson said the Poppy Project could never have happened without community support.
"I needed quite a few people to make these poppies, so I did a lot of outsourcing to schools, to nursing homes, to volunteers, the generosity of corporate funding sponsors also helped produce these. There was...small businesses that gave to this project," she said.
The Poppy Project, Terrigal 2016. Contributed: Merril Jackson
"So many people came to help."
Unfortunately, The Poppy Project was unable to receive the necessary funding for the larger community project to be realised during the 100 Years of ANZAC Centenary 2014-2018, though the community involvement to create two huge Poppy nets did continue.
"Cleaning headstones and war memorials was something I was able to achieve when the Poppy Project years ended," said Ms Jackson.
The Celtic Cross War memorial when unveiled in 1920. Contributed: Merril Jackson
"As such, my partner and I provided the initial clean of the (Gosford) Christ Church War Memorial (also known as ‘Celtic Cross War Memorial’), which turned 100 in 2020.
"I applied for a Community War Memorials Fund (NSW Veteran Affairs) and was successful in receiving financial support to enable the Rookwood Monument Heritage Team to complete the restorative work on the Celtic Cross War Memorial."
Rookwood Cemetery Monument Heritage Team
This restoration has been made possible by a Community War Memorials Fund from NSW Government Veterans Affairs -
proudly funded by the NSW Government
COVID restrictions and lockdown in 2020 delayed the restoration, but it has now been completed, just in time for the cross' 100th +1 birthday on August 29, 2021. Now Cyril and a list of other Central Coast men who never returned home from war can be read by future generations.
'The Poppy Project and beyond with Merril Jackson', Youtube, November 10, 2020, accessed online 16th August, 2021, The Poppy Project and beyond with Merril Jackson - YouTube
'Celtic Cross War Memorial Restored', Coast Community News, August 6, 2021, accessed online 16th August, 2021, Celtic Cross War Memorial restored - Central Coast Community News
'Poppy Project: Never Forgetting the Sacrifices', Facebook page, accessed online 16th August, 2021, Poppy Project: Never Forgetting the Sacrifices | Facebook