The oldest surviving poppy from the battlefields of the First World War has sold at a Dorset auction for £6,300 - more than six times its estimate.
The frail and faded bloom, a ghostly memento of a conflict that cost millions of lives, went under the hammer at Duke’s auction house in Dorchester yesterday, 97 years after it was picked from front line trenches by a teenage soldier.
Private Cecil Roughton, aged 17, picked it as a souvenir when serving in the trenches of Arras in northern France in 1916.
The fields, that became killing grounds, were scarlet with poppies in summer, but it was not until 1921 that the flower was used officially to commemorate those who had died in the war.
Young Private Roughton pressed the bloom in the pages of a notebook and somehow kept it safe.
The next we know of its history is 1923 when he gave it to a young admirer, the daughter of neighbours, who asked him for his autograph.
He stuck the flower in a page in 13-year-old Joan Banton’s book and wrote underneath it: “Souvenir from a front line trench near Arras. May 1916. C. Roughton 1923.”
The memento remained in Joan’s family and was put up for sale by her daughter, Sue Best, who lives at Corfe Castle
In 2010 the family lent the poppy to the Royal British Legion for an exhibition and it was restored and encased in acrylic. It is thought to be the oldest poppy in Britain and one of only a handful that survive from the First World War. One is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
Mrs Best said: “I am selling it now because I want it to go to someone who will value it like we have.”
Duke’s gave an estimate of £500 to £1,000 for the flower, but auctioneer Guy Schwinge had also said: “This poppy represents a piece of history and is imbued with immense poignancy. As such it is priceless.”
When it went under the hammer yesterday bidding was brisk. As the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches, interest is increasing in everything associated with the “war to end wars”.
There could be little more poignant than the innocent survivor of a summer day, picked in a moment of calm by a sensitive young man who could not know that he had unwittingly picked a flower that would stand for all those who give their lives for their country.
The buyer was Hancocks of London, makers of the Victoria Cross. The firm will keep it as an important memento and have assured Duke’s that it will be used for public and charitable events, rather than being kept locked away in private.