Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

I have just returned from a short trip to London, England,where we  lived for almost two decades before returning to Ireland. London is a city that I love and I look forward to each return visit. This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War which has been commemorated in the most astonishing way at the historic Tower of London.


The ‘Weeping Window’ the source of the wave of poppies that will fill the moat

Some decades ago, when I worked  in the banking area in the City of London, summer lunchtime would be spent sitting on the grass looking down at the Tower and enjoying the sunshine. We happily munched on our ham and mustard  or cheese and pickle sandwiches while enjoying the historic view and discussing the gruesome executions that took place just yards from where we dined! The Tower itself dates back to the 11th century, and is one of London’s most visited tourist attractions, housing the Crown Jewels, and protected by the colourful Beefeater Guards and those fearsome Ravens!

My visit this week was very poignant as I revisited the area I know so well, for the entire scene has been transformed to mark the centenary of the First World War. Ceramic Artist Paul Cummins has created  888,246 poppies and stage designer Tom Piper planned the layout of this art installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Beautifully conceived with a flow of poppies coming from a ‘weeping window’ on the tower, and it has been slowly spreading in a wave, a river of  poppies. Planting of the poppies(on wire stems) by volunteers began in July and has continued each day since then. At 11 am on 11 November the last poppy will be planted.
888,246 is the number of British army  fatalities in World War 1. Tens of thousands of Irish men volunteered (we did not have conscription in Ireland) to serve in this army, for we were then part of Britain and tens of thousands of Irish men died.  Up to 40,000 (the exact number is not definitively known) of these poppies represent Irish men – my countrymen – fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews, who never came home from that war. They were from every County in Ireland from Donegal to Cork, from Dublin to Galway, from Sligo to Waterford to Kerry. Fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews who died horrible deaths in muck filled trenches – often blown to bits, blasted to smithereens, dismembered, disembowelled, decapitated; many lay screaming in their last agony, many lay crying for their mothers or their wives in excruciating pain as the life drained from them; many gasped for air as their mustard gassed lungs turned into acid that burned them alive on the inside; many lay in mud filled trenches,with limbs missing and slowly bled to death, perhaps buried under dead comrades; many were vaporized and no trace of them was ever found.
For each of these, and those from whatever country that populated the British Military forces Scotland, England,Wales,Ireland, India,New Zealand, Australia, Canada and more,- whether obliterated  or who died a slow tortuous death – a poppy has been planted in the great moat of this iconic palace.
4 million people will visit to see them and yesterday I was one of them.  An astonishing number of people wept as they realized that each one represents a human being. The silence from such a vast crowd was very surprising.
These are the snaps of my visit in both daylight and after dark. I add my silence to theirs.


Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish at War, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History

49 responses to “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

  1. It is a lovely tribute, sad and sorrowful, but beautiful in that these brave soldiers are remembered. Here, as in many other places, thousands of hand crafted poppies have been made with love and admiration and will be displayed at war memorials and services throughout the country. May we always remember and honour our fallen…R.I.P.

  2. Oh, Angela! This is unbelievable–the vision for the tribute, your photos, and your beautifully written words to honor the dead. Would it be okay with you if I reblogged this?

  3. I have applied for an ANZAC plaque to be place over the grave site in Rockhampton Australia of John Irwin White born Dublin 1870 who enlisted from Rockhampton Australia in Sept 1914. He landed at Gallipoli April 25 1915 and fought also in France through many injuries. I have year of birth but finding the date from Ireland is proving a challenge. He died in Rockhampton 1933. He did not have any children and is buried with his Irish descendant wife Elizabeth Grorock (Kelly) Any clues?

  4. Your photos are wonderful. I’d seen some before but hadn’t realised so many more thousands of poppies had been added to since. What a wonderful collaborative piece of art this is. And a great way to remember the fallen.

    • It has been ‘flowing’ since July and really worth seeing at various stages of development. It is very imaginative and very beautiful and so easy to relate to. All of the poppies were available to purchase with proceeds going to charity. I am the lucky owner of one of them and when it is dismantled poppies will be dispatched. Thanks for dropping by and your nice comments!

      • Ah, very interesting. I can see that idea catching on with lots of charities doing something similar choosing some little symbol which is relevant to them.

  5. SV, this just makes me weep too. How could people have coped with that war, or how do they cope with any war. Such loss and bloodshed and all for what?

    • It was the ‘war to end all wars’! It didn’t work! I can’t begin to imagine how people coped – many families lost several sons and those who survived suffered terribly from injuries and mental incapacity. It is all inexplicable. Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Reblogged this on Love Those "Hands at Home" and commented:
    This year marks the centenary of World War I or the Great War. We’ve all heard of the huge numbers of dead in that war but it’s terribly difficult to really grasp numbers that large.

    You may already have seen photos of the display at the Great Tower of London, which gives terrible meaning to the number 888,246—the British dead in the war.

    Angela, from The Silver Voice of Ireland, has posted her own pictures that capture the heart-breaking beauty of the display of 888,246 ceramic poppies, as they cascade from a window at the Great Tower of London into a sea of red. Her words also remind us that, although the display is dazzling and that the lives had beauty, the deaths were often “slow and obscene.”

    Keep in mind as you look at the photos that the poppies represent only a fraction of the dead, worldwide, from the war. We would need to add 18 times the number of poppies to account for the estimated 16 million combatants and civilians who lost their lives.

  7. This has to be the most effective, and poignant, “installation”. It is so simple yet captures the tremendous loss of life so effectively. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos. Then to extrapolate all these losses to all the families…heart-breaking.

  8. Maree, this is the information you’re seeking, hopefully.
    Here is some of the information you are looking for re John Irwin White. He enlisted on 19 Sept 1914, stating he was 34 yrs old and born Sydney, however at his death his age is given as 61 years.
    These are the relevant links you need: (his WWI service record)
    Also a summary here
    His enlistment is mentioned in this article and his return to Australia here
    Contacts for Rockhampton cemetery – they may be able to tell you if he has a headstone, and my guess is he may already have a service headstone as his death notice makes reference to same. His funeral notice.
    The Qld BDM indexes show his death:
    1933 C3271 John Irwin White Charles White Alexandra Irwin

    Hope this helps.

    Angela, would you please forward this to her email if she doesn’t see the message. Thanks


    • Pauleen. That is most helpful of you and |I am sure it will be of great help to Maree. No mention of Dublin?
      . I have contacted her to let her know! Many thanks. A

      • No problem Angela. I found no reference to Dublin. Her best bet might be to order the death certificate above which can be done online for $AU20 and then received immediately. Here is the link, although that needs to be done is to put in his details and that entry should come up, click the order button and voila. Glad you have the downloaded service records Maree, and yes, it certainly it seems he “fudged” his year of birth, not uncommon. You can also search for his marriage if it was in Australia…might have been NSW or Qld.

  9. I found your post thanks to KerryCan’s ‘Love those hands at home’ and would like to ask you if I too may re-blog your moving post, tomorrow, 11th November. It’s a fine tribute.

  10. I had read about this a few months ago when the volunteers started. Thank you for sharing your personal experience as you saw it. I can imagine the feeling upon seeing it. What an appropriate place for the installation.

  11. Thank you for the pictures and the story of your visit.

  12. Reblogged this on From Pyrenees to Pennines and commented:
    Today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day. This year has been the one in which we’ve all been encouraged to focus on the horrible loss of life in the First World War: a war in which there were 16 million military deaths worldwide and 20 million casualties. ‘Casualties’ sounds such a, well, casual word. In fact many of these ‘casualties’ were unable any longer to work, to form sustained relationships, or in any way able to re-join normal life. And the communities from which the dead and injured came were also maimed, losing many or in some cases all of their young men. The way of life in such communities changed forever. The most telling way of appreciating the scale of this loss, for me, has been the sea of poppies at the Tower of London. I’ve been unable to witness it in person, but this blog, which I came by thanks to fellow blogger KerryCan: brings the whole project to life in a most moving way. Thank you, Silver Voice from Ireland,

  13. Lovely tribute – I have read about the Tower, but have not seen it. Your pictures bring the Tower to life and on turn the poopies bring back the memories of them men and women who gave their life in defense of their country. Thank you.

  14. I also came to your post from “Love those Hands at Home” – incredibly moving. Would like your permission to reblog it on today, all of Canada is remembering

  15. It is an amazing memorial. I watched, courtesy of BBC, the last poppy being placed on Remembrance Day.

  16. I found your post through Margaret21’s reblog – it moved me to tears. This is the most compelling tribute to the slaughter that was WW1 that has ever been seen. Perhaps the horror it conveys so beautifully will move people away from the glorification of war that happens all too often these days. The photos and your narrative are amazing – thank you.

    • It is an amazing installation and it is beautiful and shocking at the same time. I am not so sure that we learn anything from war, and certainly not enough to prevent the next one happening.! Thank you for your contribution!

  17. Leith

    Thank you, Angela, for “taking us there” in your blog, we who can’t visit in person.These images will be a legacy for this generation.

    Remembering Martin O’Meara VC born Tipperary Nov.1885 died Perth WA Dec.1935.

  18. Pingback: Saturday Flowers: Lest We Forget | Tropical Territory & Travel

  19. Thank you so much for dropping in on my blog which has now given me the chance to find yours. Tthis is a wonderful post with absolutely wonderful photographs – you’ve really done the occasion so much justice. ~It’s a shame that the poppies have to be dismantled so soon but I’m happy that they will be going to the generous people who donated money in the first place. They will be a lasting and artistic reminder of this incredible centenary and what it actually stands for. It’s good to meet you!

  20. Awesome tribute, thank you SV.

  21. Oh, how I’d love to jump on a plane and see this for myself! Incredibly beautiful despite the sad story behind it. Or maybe because of it…

  22. Pingback: In Rememberance | A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

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