The Minden roses in 2013. British Consulate-General photo
Like clockwork, six red roses were delivered to the British Consulate at 625 N Michigan Avenue on August 1. It was the 46th such delivery since 1967.
Every year, the roses are accompanied by an envelope marked IN MEMORIAM. Every year, the envelope is stuffed with the same unsigned letter.
1 AUGUST 1759
THE SUFFOLK REGIMENT
ROYAL WELCH FUSILIERS
KINGS OWN SCOTTISH BORDERERS
ROYAL HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT
YORKSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
They advanced through rose gardens to the battleground and decorated their tricorne hats and grenadier caps with the emblem of England. These regiments celebrate Minden Day still, and all wear roses in their caps on this anniversary in memory of their ancestors.
The Minden roses in 1986. Sun-Times file photo
The first of August is Minden Day, a now-obscure commemoration celebrated by some units in the British Army. It honors the Battle of Minden 254 years ago, when British soldiers and their Germanic allies routed the French near present-day Hanover, Germany. It was a decisive battle that would later be credited as contributing to the British victory in the Seven Years’ War.
Of all the curiosities to the story, this is the simplest to answer. As the card points out, the story goes that British soldiers wore wild roses plucked from hedgerows as they marched to battle. The celebration of Minden Day involves wearing of roses by soldiers and the placing of a rose wreath at the site of the battle. The six roses reference the six regiments mentioned in the letter, all of which are still in service today.
The Minden roses in 1990. Sun-Times file photo
But who is sending them?
No one knows. Save for conflicting reports (some newspapers report that the flowers were not delivered in 2001 or 2002, though the Consulate seems to refute that claim on Facebook,) the roses have been delivered every August 1 since 1967. The Telegraph tried and failed to learn the sender’s identity, though there is an interesting, if not ominous, trail of clues.
Some years ago, the vice consul of of the consulate convinced a florist to reveal the name of the sender: XT Atkins with an address of 1759 Albion. Not surprisingly, fake information. Tommy Atkins was a slang name for British troops that originated as early as 1743, the Brits’ version of ‘GI Joe.’ 1759 was of course the year of the Battle of Minden, while Albion is the oldest known name for the British island.
The Telegraph traced the flowers to Pioneer Court Florist, a floral shop not far from the consulate:
Ray Schulz, the shop’s owner, said the same man had come into the shop every July for more than 10 years, always paying cash and never leaving a name. I know what he wants even before he orders the roses, said Ms Schulz, who described her mystery customer as well-dressed and in his early 60s. He speaks with an American accent, she added.
Curiously, the anonymous sender has switched florists at several times. In 1986, the Sun-Times reported the now-defunct McMahon Florists were the source:
Even McMahon Florists, 729 S. Dearborn, where the roses are always purchased, haven’t been able to help. They’ve told the consulate that every year about two weeks before Aug. 1, a man calls and asks how much it would cost to deliver six roses to the British consulate. […] In 1984, the sender added to his note what looked like clues to his identity – the number 168 written under the list of regiments, and a cryptic quotation, He was,`95 always on the right.‘
(It is worth noting that the battle began on the French’s right flank.)
By 1990, it was A. Lange Florists. Every account is the same: a tall, slender man with an American accent. The only other clue came in 1999, when an older man stopped at the consulate to confirm the delivery. He left with a cryptic message: “It may not go on much longer.”
But go on it did, right through August 1, 2013. The flowers were delivered. Whether by the same man, relatives carrying on the tradition, or a lawyer executing a will, no one knows.
As tradition has come to dictate, the consulate extends its gratitude, the hope that the anonymous sender reveals himself, and the “lingering fear that this might be the year that the tradition is broken.”
August 1, 2014, is just a short 11 months away.