Flower from WW1 battlefield survives for a century to retell wartime love story

Posted on 10/11/2020 in Press Coverage

A flower plucked from a First World War battlefield by an injured serviceman for his English sweetheart more than a century ago is coming up for auction.

The rare pressed chrysanthemum was picked from a Flanders field, a region of northern France/Belgium, in November 1917 by Australian Serviceman Pte Michael Fitisoff and given to Londoner Miss Lily Ricks. Under the flower Michael wrote, ‘A souvenir from France, 27.11.17’.

The floral love token features in a WW1 British autograph album compiled by Lily, which is due to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers on November 20, guide price £400-£500.

Provenance with the lot explains that the couple got to know each other before the 1914-18 Great War. Michael worked as a carpenter on a Russian ship which moored at Millwall Docks, near Lily’s home.

Michael was at sea from the age of 13, ended up in Perth, Australia, and joined the Australian armed forces in 1916. His next of kin was listed as a ‘brother somewhere in Russia’.

Michael fought in the First World War trenches but was sent to England in 1917 after suffering a gunshot wound to his hand and an eye problem, which was likely to have been caused by a mustard gas attack. He picked the flower a couple of days before leaving Flanders and gave it to Lily when he arrived in England.

His eyesight was too damaged for further war service and in 1918 he was shipped back to Australia - but not before me made Lily his next of kin.

However, distance prevented their romance blossoming further. He went on to emigrate to America and married wife, Mary, and Lily also married someone else – but kept her cherished flower for life

Adrian Stevenson, militaria expert at Hansons, said: “Mementos like this remind us of the human side of war, loved ones torn apart, friendship and affection. It’s sad to think that Michael and Lily ended up on opposite sides of the world after their romance blossomed.But they were there for each other for a few years at least, offering love and support.

“Lily’s WW1 British autograph album contains many fascinating items and is of historical importance, so much so the album toured Australia and New Zealand as part of a ‘Women of Empire 1914-1918 Exhibition’.

“I hope it does well at auction and finds a new loving home, someone who will treasure that flower like Lily did.”

The WW1 British autograph album compiled by Miss Lily Ricks is due to be sold on November 20 in Hansons Auctioneers’ Militaria, Medals and Firearms Auction. To find out more, email [email protected].

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All auction catalogues are published on Hansons bidding platform - Militaria catalogue due live November 10.