On 17th July 2014, a Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (also known as a Beefeater) planted a single red porcelain poppy in the grass of the moat surrounding the Tower. Other poppies followed, and the installation named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was first revealed to the public on 5th August, the centenary of the United Kingdom’s entry into the conflict that became known as WWI.
The imposing Tower of London, founded following the Norman conquest in 1066, has a rich history. From palace to prison, menagerie to mint, it’s now one of the top tourist attractions in the UK, set against the ultra-modern architecture of the city of London.
The poppy filled moat is part of an installation commemorating the British and Commonwealth dead of World War I, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, taken from a poem written by an unknown soldier killed in the conflict.
Sculpted archers on the bastions give a hint of the history of the Tower, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ceramic poppies spill from a window high on the Tower wall, pooling in the moat below, washing the base of the stone walls. As more poppies were added to the display by volunteers working on the project, they surge up in a wave over the causeway leading to the entrance to the Tower.
Created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, the installation will be completed with the planting of the final poppy on Armistice Day on 11th November. This will bring the total number of poppies flooding the moat to 888,246, each representing a British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the conflict.
A symbol of remembrance since the end of the First World War, when the poppies growing in fields ravages by fighting inspired the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
Poppies pour from a window high on the outer wall of the Tower, pooling in the moat. By the time the last poppy is laid on November 11th, the moat will be completely filled, with a wave of red surging up against the stone.
At the setting of the sun, names are read from the role of Honour by a Yeoman Warder of the Tower, and the dead of the war remembered.
The installation has been criticised in some quarters as a sanitised interpretation of the grotesque and bloody events of WWI, however the sheer scale of the work has captured the imagination of the British people and the many visitors to London. Those attending at sunset everyday for the sounding of the Last Post and the reading of the Role of Honour, can’t fail to be moved viscerally by the thought of a name, and a family, attached to each and every one of the fragile flowers blooming brightly for a few short months.
What is a symbol? It can be a word, a sound, an image or a gesture. A shorthand for an idea or belief. It can be an object or it can be a person. Indeed, over the past week it is a term that has been used extensively in tribute to the Nelson Mandela; a symbol of unity and reconciliation, of human rights and equality, hope and freedom. Continue reading
95 years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the War of 1914-18, World War I, was brought to an end with the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies, and the laying down of arms. Continue reading