For anyone not in the UK who has not heard, in remembrance of the centenary of the start of World War I a huge installation has been growing over the past two months in the moat of the Tower of London, a sea of poppies, 888,246, one for each of the British soldiers lost in the war. The poppies were created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and the setting designed by stage designer Tom Piper.
On Friday evening I made the journey to the Tower to see the poppies. By the time I arrived the sun had set, so it was under floodlights that I saw them. The scale of the installation is what is so astounding as the entire tower is surrounded, flooding the area in a sea of red. The differing heights of the poppies adds another element as they form waves as you walk past, and the tears that spill out from the tower itself is a very moving touch.
The good news is that they have decided to keep these sections intact until the end of November, allowing more people to see them, rather than take down the installation on Wednesday as originally planned. It was astonishing how many people crammed into the small walkways to see the poppies and I can only imagine how many thousands of people have made a special trip to the site since the poppies were first planted.
There has been a lot of debate recently, brought about by the publicity given the poppies of the tower, as to how the symbol of a poppy is now perceived. For me, and many others, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance. It reminds us of all those who lost their lives in service to their country, in the world wars and in every war. It is a reminder of everything we lost, and everything we maintained, and that there are still soldiers and their families who need help and support. To think it as anything else is, I think, to miss the point entirely.
Also on Friday a brass statue of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in Trafalgar Square as part of the Every Man Remembered campaign, commemorating the 1,117,077 men and women of the Commonwealth who fell during World War I. The figure stands tall with poppies fluttering and falling around him, a very poignant display. I was particularly struck by the soldier having his eyes closed as it seems to invoke a sense of self reflection and remembrance. The sculpture, a collaboration with artist Mark Humphrey, will be in place until 16th November before going on tour around the UK for the next four years.
Both the poppies at the Tower of London and the Every Man Remembered sculpture are remarkable reminders of all those lost in the First World War, and mark the centenary with understated poignancy.