Photos: Stunning World War I commemoration at the Tower of London

posted at 9:21 pm on August 7, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

It’s rare that a high-profile public art installation—called to be somber, stately, accessible, and stirring to all people of all tastes—succeeds so thoroughly. Add to this that it’s a modern work of art honoring heroes lost in a 100-year-old conflict with a 900-year-old world-famous landmark as a canvas, and it seems damn-near miraculous.

Kudos to ceramics artist Paul Cummins and his 50 staff and many, many volunteers who brought “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” to life at the Tower of London to pay tribute to the dead of the Great War. Almost 900,000 bright-red ceramic poppies cascade out of the Tower of London and into its surrounding dry moat creating a truly beautiful and overwhelming sense of just how much was lost. Each poppy, many of them planted individually by a crew of volunteers, represents a British or colonial soldier lost during the war.

See Cummins explain the idea, here. See how each three-foot-high poppy is made, here.

Cummins said he was inspired by a line of an unsigned will found in the pocket of a fallen soldier:

The poppies are being created by the ceramic artist Paul Cummins, inspired by a line in the will of a Derbyshire man who joined up in the earliest days of the war and died in Flanders.

“I don’t know his name or where he was buried or anything about him,” Cummins, who found the will among old records in Chesterfield, said. “But this line he wrote, when everyone he knew was dead and everywhere around him was covered in blood, jumped out at me: ‘The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.’ I believe he meant the angels to refer to his children.”

Soldiers were encouraged to make simple wills, stored in their pocket books – often with moving last letters to their families – so they could be retrieved with their bodies if the worst happened.

Video of the young royals visiting the Tower of London, here.

The poppies can be purchased, and the response from the public is expected to raise millions for military charities.

‘I’ve been staggered by the response and support from members of the public,’ he said. ‘When I had the idea, I never imagined the reaction would be so overwhelming.

‘I think that it is something everybody can relate to and they feel very personally about.’

The sea of poppies will continue to grow until the 888, 246th one is planted on Nov. 11, Armistice Day. The result is a tribute at once respectful of tradition and perfectly suited to the Instagram age. I am no great scholar of World War I, and as such, I shall not endeavor to Voxplain it to you. But I suspect I am not alone in being inspired to read more thoroughly about it and those who gave their all after seeing this, and that is part of the tribute as well.

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Where are the symbols of Islam?

ShainS on August 7, 2014 at 9:27 PM

I saw these pics the other day and was in awe. Would love to see it in person.

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:29 PM

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” – Wilfred Owen

de rigueur on August 7, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Stunning, really.

TDSE on August 7, 2014 at 9:31 PM

Such a profound and emotional inspiring memorial.
My great grandfather fought in WW1 and made it home.
Exposure to mustard gas eventually took him.
Thoughts and prayer to those who lost family members.
Thanks to those who gave their all.

31giddyup on August 7, 2014 at 9:31 PM

That’s really beautiful.

Cindy Munford on August 7, 2014 at 9:33 PM

Nice, thoughtful commemoration. This is a darn sight better than the Normandy interpretive dance.

whatcat on August 7, 2014 at 9:36 PM

The Foul Tornado
On the centenary of World War I.

By Peter Hitchens

To say that that the First World War was the greatest cataclysm in human history since the fall of the Roman Empire is to put it mildly. The war destroyed so many good things and killed so many good people that civilization has not recovered and probably never will. Long after it officially ended, it continued to cause millions of deaths and tragedies, most obviously during its encore performance of 1939-45. But it did not stop even then. Many of its worst consequences came during official periods of peace and are unknown or forgotten, or remain unconnected with it in the public mind. . . .

An article—not a brief post—but worth the read.

INC on August 7, 2014 at 9:37 PM

Spectacular but what a lot of work.

crankyoldlady on August 7, 2014 at 9:40 PM

WOW that’s beautiful

gophergirl on August 7, 2014 at 9:43 PM

Very sobering but of course it has to be marred by the artist opening his secular yap rather than just sticking to his “art”.

The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.’ I believe he meant the angels to refer to his children.”

No, he meant angels…supernatural beings created by God. The phrase comes from Alexander Popes essay and was the title of a 1905 E.M Forster novel. The complete quote makes it quite clear why this soldier used it to describe the devastation he witnessed, “for fools rush in where angels dare to tread”.

ironmarshal on August 7, 2014 at 9:44 PM

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Nice, thoughtful commemoration. This is a darn sight better than the Normandy interpretive dance.

whatcat on August 7, 2014 at 9:36 PM

How disgraceful that was. Wouldn’t even made through auditions for “The Gong Show”.

31giddyup on August 7, 2014 at 9:46 PM

I visited the Tower, quite the place. It’s been around for over 900 years and they still seal the gates and assign a daily password, the password has never been repeated in all that time; over 325,000 different words.

Bishop on August 7, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
More Peter, Paul & Mary lyrics

jim56 on August 7, 2014 at 9:47 PM

WWI was, in many ways, far more interesting and horrific, than any war you may ever study. It changed the western world for the worse….but it came from a time that pre-dates our nihilistic culture. It’s inspiring to read about the courage it took to withstand it…and depressing in the consequences for us, 100 years later. A true tragedy. It was far bigger than even 9/11, whose seeds were flowering well before the event itself. Unlike any event in modern history, you can still very clearly see the line between before and after. The war itself really can’t be repeated…but it’s consequence can. It was really the last time the west was at war with itself…and we lost.

AUINSC on August 7, 2014 at 9:48 PM

Poppies, again;

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 9:48 PM

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Thank you for posting that. It’s been years since I last read it..

31giddyup on August 7, 2014 at 9:49 PM

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Oops!

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 9:50 PM

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

-Maj. John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army Medical Corps, May 1915

God rest you, gentlemen.

eon

eon on August 7, 2014 at 9:52 PM

All the Beefeaters are former soldiers, that dude in the pic looks as if he might have whipped more than a few recruits into shape.

Bishop on August 7, 2014 at 9:53 PM

31giddyup on August 7, 2014 at 9:49 PM

You’re welcome!

Lots of info here:
http://www.greatwar.co.uk/article/remembrance-poppy.htm

I remember way back, when it was in elementary school, always getting those little crepe paper poppies from Veterans on Veterans Day. I don’t see them anymore. Anyone still do that here in the U.S.?

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:53 PM

…when I was in elementary school…

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:55 PM

eon

eon on August 7, 2014 at 9:52 PM

We must have all been looking for that, at about the same time.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 9:58 PM

ironmarshal on August 7, 2014 at 9:44 PM

Yup. Also referenced to by the popular song “Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)”.

whatcat on August 7, 2014 at 9:58 PM

eon

eon on August 7, 2014 at 9:52 PM

We must have all been looking for that, at about the same time.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 9:58 PM

I was looking for it too, but so many found it quicker. So good to know many of us remember the poem.
Never forget. ; )

31giddyup on August 7, 2014 at 10:01 PM

. . Anyone still do that here in the U.S.?

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:53 PM

Wilmington, MA.
Still.
Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day all still mean something.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 10:02 PM

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Galtian on August 7, 2014 at 10:04 PM

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Glad to hear that. I hope it is still a prevalent tradition around this country, and that kids are being told the meaning of the poppy.

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 10:07 PM

Glad to hear that. I hope it is still a prevalent tradition around this country, and that kids are being told the meaning of the poppy.

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 10:07 PM

15ish years ago- as the Memorial Day parade went by, the head of the local legion broke ranks and came over to thank me for the fact that my 6-7 year old son properly addressed the flag.

We can still inculcate – it’s not too late.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Anyone still do that here in the U.S.?

Brat on August 7, 2014 at 9:53 PM

When I make a donation to the AL ladies outside of a store I get a plastic poppy.

whatcat on August 7, 2014 at 10:12 PM

We will remember them.

lexhamfox on August 7, 2014 at 10:13 PM

Thanks for posting this. It is truly an exquisite remembrance.

Really disappointed that the photos won’t print.

GGMac on August 7, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Over there!
Over there!
Send the word, send the word over there!
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there!

Blake on August 7, 2014 at 10:20 PM

ironmarshal on August 7, 2014 at 9:44 PM

Thank you for that.

Cleombrotus on August 7, 2014 at 10:23 PM

With shipping, they are US$75.

Too bad, I’d like one.

Tard on August 7, 2014 at 10:30 PM

From little towns in a far land, we came
To save our honour, and a world aflame;
By little towns in a far land, we sleep
And trust those things we won, to you to keep.

Tard on August 7, 2014 at 10:34 PM

Thanks for the pics, MKH.

MichaelGabriel on August 7, 2014 at 10:45 PM

15ish years ago- as the Memorial Day parade went by, the head of the local legion broke ranks and came over to thank me for the fact that my 6-7 year old son properly addressed the flag.

We can still inculcate – it’s not too late.

massrighty on August 7, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Kind of gives hope that even in a place as moon-batty as Taxssachusetts, there’s still a smidgen of hope.

Formerly from NYC…which is just as batshyte crazy, especially now.

BlaxPac on August 7, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Excellent.

Elton E Mackin spoke of poppies in “Suddenly we didn’t want to die”

I’ll probably re-read it this weekend, now. It’s a great personal account of a WWI Marine.

Great pics Mrs Hamm.

wolly4321 on August 7, 2014 at 11:42 PM

£25, plus £19 for shipping to the US. http://poppies.hrp.org.uk/ Will be shipped after the installation is complete in November.

Rule Britannia.

Guy in Texas on August 8, 2014 at 1:18 AM

Wow. Magnificent!

leader4hru on August 8, 2014 at 1:41 AM

Somehow this is the first comment:

Where are the symbols of Islam?

ShainS on August 7, 2014 at 9:27 PM

Can anyone make sense of this?

eh on August 8, 2014 at 2:12 AM

Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen, 1893 – 1918

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

None remember him. He lies
In earth of some strange-sounding place,
Nameless beneath the nameless skies,
The wind his only chant, the rain
The only tears upon his face;
Far and forgotten utterly
By living man. Yet such as he
Have made it possible and sure
For other lives to have, to be;
For men to sleep content, secure.
Lip touches lip and eyes meet eyes
Because his heart beats not again;
His rotting, fruitless body lies
That sons may grow from other men.
Unknown

Hill60 on August 8, 2014 at 3:10 AM

Another Reply To In Flanders Fields
— by J. A. Armstrong

In Flanders Fields the cannons boom,
And fitful flashes light the gloom;
While up above, like eagles, fly
The fierce destroyers of the sky;
With stains the earth wherein you lie
Is redder than the poppy bloom,
In Flanders Fields.

Sleep on, ye brave! The shrieking shell,
The quaking trench, the startling yell,
The fury of the battle hell
Shall wake you not, for all is well;
Sleep peacefully, for all is well.
Your flaming torch aloft we bear,
With burning heart and oath we swear
To keep the faith, to fight it through,
To crush the foe, or sleep with you,
In Flanders Fields.

———
I have found two other “replies”. One, though really good, is longer than I want to post here. The other, published before WII, seems overcome by that war.

Kevin K. on August 8, 2014 at 4:52 AM

For two of the best books about the run-up to the First World War, and also its consequences, I can’t recommend two books by Professor Margaret MacMillian highly enough. The books are detailed and extensively researched.

“The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

and

“Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World”

oldleprechaun on August 8, 2014 at 6:50 AM

All the grave yards in Europe that hold the fallen soldiers of WW II and Arlington in DC hold me in awe and flood my senses, always have and always will.

mixplix on August 8, 2014 at 6:58 AM

Can anyone make sense of this?

eh on August 8, 2014 at 2:12 AM

Everyone but you. It was hilarious.

Blake on August 8, 2014 at 8:04 AM

MKH has the best job in the world.

Post week old stuff, and get awards for political blogging.

Odie1941 on August 8, 2014 at 9:58 AM

Beautiful! Now that’s modern art I can get behind.

RebeccaH on August 8, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Awesome! It moves one to silence.

wmdawesrode on August 8, 2014 at 11:36 AM

WW I was really the last “civilized war” in some respects. I think of the Christmas peace between the Germans and the Brits, I think it was.

Neither side was objectively “evil.” The Germans, our foe, were not following a dead ideology; they went to war because of their allies. In fact, we could have saved the world a ton of trouble if we’d declared a ceasefire and let the Germans move their armies east to finish the Soviets–in fact, they DID beat the Soviets in that war. Russia quit.

Germany lost, but wasn’t really defeated; thus sowing the seeds of WWII.

Ever since “The war to end all wars” we’ve been fighting against evil. National Socialsim and Imperial Japan were evil societies. The Soviet Union was evil. North Korea is evil; North Vietnam; even Saddam. We’ve fumbled the ball and let something worse take root, but in general America has fought evil societies since WW I.

Totally irrelevant, but I find it fascinating that the only “good” general Hitler ever had, and by good I mean morally good and right, was the only general who ever got any value out of Italian troops–Erwin Rommel. The Italian soldiers wouldn’t fight for anything, but they did fight for Rommel. They recognized a good man when they saw one.

Vanceone on August 8, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Anyone still do that here in the U.S.?

I see the men, they take donations and give you a poppie outside my supermarket in MA, it is a Roche Bros. supermarket. There are a lot of stores, and they are civic minded. Where I live, i think it is for disabled vets, but can’t be sure now.

Recently in an episode of the British detective series, Endeavor, they were wearing their poppies for Armistice day, so we would know the setting was November.

Fleuries on August 8, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Over there!
Over there!
Send the word, send the word over there!
That the Yanks aren’t coming, the Yanks aren’t coming
And we won’t come back till it’s they’re over, over there here!

Blake on August 7, 2014 at 10:20 PM

Updated version. :(

ReggieA on August 8, 2014 at 5:31 PM