Magazine article The Spectator

Flower Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Flower Power

Article excerpt

The rose has long been an international symbol of peace and reconciliation. A striking example is 'Peace', which was bred by Meilland in the south of France, smuggled out to the United States during the last war, and became the first rose to be named after the war ended. Another is the Rose Garden in the 'Park of Peace and Friendship', close to the site of the completely razed village of Lidice, a mining village in the present-day Czech Republic.

This park, dedicated in 1955, is a memorial to one of the worst Nazi atrocities of the second world war when, in June 1942, the village men were shot, their womenfolk sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, and most of their children dispatched to Chelmno, where they were gassed.

As most people know, the massacre was carried out as a reprisal for the killing of Reinhard Heydrich, 'the Butcher of Prague', by two Czech agents. Interestingly, the idea for the Rose Garden came originally from the English 'Lidice shall live' Committee, chaired by Dr (later Sir) Barnett Stross, MP, which also raised £37,000 to help rebuild Lidice close to the old site. The rest of the world piled in and nearly 30,000 roses were donated to the Park by 35 different countries.

Seven thousand of these came from Harry Wheatcroft's nursery in Nottinghamshire, from where the British effort was co-ordinated. 'Peace' figured prominently among them.

(Harry Wheatcroft, as older readers will remember, was a flamboyant, bewhiskered rosarian, a lifelong socialist and pacifist, much given to wearing loud suits. ) A song, entitled 'A Rose for Lidice', was composed by Alan Rawsthorne soon after.

The English connections don't end with Stross or Wheatcroft, however, for the exiled president of Czechoslovakia, Eduard Benes, and his wife spent the war in leafiest Buckinghamshire. They lived at The Abbey, a country house in the picturesque village of Aston Abbotts, near Aylesbury. Churchill would come over to visit from nearby Chequers, and much of the Czech resistance was organised from here, including the fateful planning for the assassination of Heydrich. In October 1943, to mark the 25th anniversary of the birth of an independent Czechoslovakia (the German invasion notwithstanding), Benes planted a lime tree in the grounds of The Abbey. Limes, being long-lived and stately, are commonly planted in eastern Europe to mark important anniversaries. …

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