Tower of London Poppies
If you haven’t seen the incredible installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London, marking one hundred years since the first day of Britain's involvement in the First World War June Faulkner urges you to go and see it.
Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies will fill the Tower of London’s moat by 11 November this year. Each poppy represents a British military fatality during WW1. The scale of the installation intends to reflect the magnitude of this important centenary by creating a powerful display, which will cover 16 acres round the Tower, including poppies cascading down the sides of the historic old building. Each unique poppy is hand made in Derby by a team comprising 70% artists, and everyone making them has a link to the armed forces or knows of someone lost in WW1.
The hope is to sell all of the poppies that make up the installation to raise millions of pounds, which will be shared equally amongst six service charities. These are Cobseo, Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and SSAFA.
Each day in the moat at sunset names of 180 Commonwealth troops killed in WW1 are read out as part of a Roll of Honour, which is followed by the Last Post. Members of the public are invited to nominate names for this Roll of Honour.
When I heard about this wonderful project I decided I wanted to be a part of it, and I was delighted when my application to be a volunteer was accepted.
After an early start on a rather dull August morning, I arrived at the Poppy Office at 9 a.m. to be shown a video of the poppies being made. We were then given the all important health and safety talk. Gloves were provided for assembling the metal poppy stems, and sturdier gloves and goggles were also mandatory for planting these stems, and for fixing the poppies on to them. Putting the smallest washers on the stems proved a challenge, but everyone present wanted to help get on with the task and worked as a team. The initial damp conditions totally forgotten, groups took turns to either a) assemble the stems or b) plant them in the ground, adding the poppies afterwards, under the guidance of well-organized leaders. Of course you didn’t want to break one, so everyone approached the final poppy task with great care, though a certain amount of physical effort was also required. The camaraderie and enthusiasm amongst those present was clear to see, and it was great to watch the poppies growing in front of our eyes.
There must have been 120 volunteers on the morning I was there, many proud to wear the red volunteer T-shirts we were offered, and although we were asked to be there between 9-1, we were told at 12 we had enthusiastically achieved our quota for the morning. We then had a chance to walk round the moat and take photographs of this quite incredible installation where Yeoman of the Guard, resplendent in their uniforms were, as always, happy to help with the history of the Tower and tell a tale or two. It is a morning I shall always happily remember.
For more information on this amazing and uplifting installation go to poppies.hrp.org.uk.
By JUNE FAULKNER