Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Tower of London poppiesUsually my volunteering activities involve sloshing around in mud at my local nature reserve. This month, I was lucky enough to take part in something quite different.

As a volunteer task, planting ceramic poppies in a moat made a change from pulling up invasive scrub from marshland. The venue was a little unusual too. I’m used to wading through the shallows of a lake. Walking through a sea of poppies at the Tower of London was quite surreal.

Since 18th July this year, the famous moat at the Tower has been progressively turning red. By 11th November, 888,246 poppies will have been planted, each representing a British military fatality during the First World War.

To mark one hundred years since the first full day of Britain's involvement in WWI, this major art installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will slowly encircle the Tower. As you can imagine, installing this many poppies takes a vast amount of manpower.

However, there was no shortage of volunteers willing to give up their time to spend a day poppy planting. I was lucky enough to be allocated a volunteer shift on 15th October. By this date, the moat had already been transformed and the scene was incredible.

The work consisted of constructing the flower by sliding rubber washers onto a metal rod, followed by a spacer bar and the ceramic poppy head. The fiddly bit was squeezing all the elements together once the rod was planted in the earth, so the poppy stood erect. Sore thumbs were a common complaint amongst volunteers by the end of the day.

Tower of London poppy plantingAs I worked alongside my fellow volunteers, crowds of people of every nationality gathered above to look down on the sea of red. Amongst them were numerous school parties from all over the country. What a fantastic way for them to learn about British history.

In an earlier post - How to write local and family history – I talk about how to communicate history in an engaging way to children. The spectacle at the Tower could hardly be more eye-catching and illustrative. The rows of poppies dramatically convey the tremendous loss of life.

The display is such an inspired idea - it was a thrill to join with other volunteers in installing this remarkable piece of art and to walk through the rows of thousands of poppies already planted.

Related post:
How to write local and family history