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.