Ever since reading the vivid, yet mesmerising war poems of Wilfred Owen at school and more recently Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, I have had a quiet sympathy for all those who served in the First World War. How anyone survived to tell the tale of those troubled years is truly a miracle!
As a result, there was no question that I had to go to see the poppies at the Tower of London. Getting up at a ridiculously early hour on a Sunday morning was a small price to pay to beat not only the crowds, but the torrential rain which started towards the end of our visit! As we neared the familiar sight of the famous London landmark, a surge of visitors all converged in one direction to view the incredible red installation which has been growing daily from the beginning of August. ‘A Sea of Red’ is indeed an apt way to describe the effect of almost 888,000 ceramic poppies, cascading from several openings in the stone walls, down into the wide moat of the castle with each one representing a British and colonial fatality during The Great War. I am sure most people have now seen pictures in the media but nothing compares to the emotion evoked in actually being there – amongst veterans and families who had come to remember loved ones.
The respect for the people each and every one of those thousands of flowers commemorated was apparent in the behaviour and conversation of those queuing up with us – and I’m sure the roll call every evening along with the Last Post at sunset is a fitting and emotional tribute to those who served their country with pride.
Poppies became a symbol of respect as far back as the Napoleonic Wars, after which bare land was transformed into fields of blood red poppies – one of the few flowers able to grow on the ravaged battlefields. This happened again in much of Northern France and Western Europe at the end of the First Word War. And every year since, the people of the UK continue to remember by wearing a red poppy with pride in their button hole. Those who served in the armed forces and those who supported them at home, were surely an ultimate example of teamwork and commitment in times of adversity. Men stood up to lead and inspire those who walked beside them – and others gave loyally to their team in order to fight for something which they valued and believed in.
Picture: Infantry of the Royal Irish Rifles during the Battle of the Somme in World War I, courtesy of Wikipedia