I was super lucky or very jammy when I applied to help at the Tower of London Remembers poppy art installation in 2014, either way, I was ecstatic!
The Historic Royal Palace’s installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively filled the Tower’s famous moat between July to November 2014. The ceramic poppies representing each person who laid down their lives during the First World War.
I had not seen the request for volunteers until the first weekend this unbelievable display was in the news. At first, I could have kicked myself, thinking I’d missed such a unique opportunity however thankfully the organisers were still taking applications but with absolutely no promises.
As always, I encourage you to apply for anything that takes your interest because at no point in the early stages are you tying yourself into a project. Don’t be put off by the process.
Each week the news images looked more spectacular. Then an email! I had been successful and given 3 date/time options with a first come, first served caveat. I could only imagine how many people that email had been sent to and again, I simply had my fingers crossed.
Not only was I one of the 19,000 volunteers who ‘planted’ the 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies, I was lucky enough to be volunteering on the last build shift before the official ceremony for the last poppy to laid down. I love my memory of being down in the Tower of London moat and the community spirit even though we volunteers were from all corners of the globe.
The easy camaraderie of strangers volunteering is brought together by a mutual interest and emotion. I was one very lucky and grateful volunteer that day; as you can see we had the benefit to explore and endlessly take photos.
We had a short explanation of how to screw the poppy on to the metal stem and then we split up into areas to ‘plant’ our poppies or lay the ceramic flower on the floor to represent the increasing wave of flowers around the Tower. We didn’t have any specific number to plant, we just had to continue until all the boxes of poppies were empty. In our enthusiasm, this didn’t take us long.
You could see the organisers were a little shell shocked. The project was complete! Days of preplanning and managing logistics and volunteers; I imagine it was very emotional for them. It was emotional being down in the moat for only 4 hours.
The longer I explored at the end of my shift, the more significant each poppy representing a life lost became – an exceptional piece of art that commemorated, touched and reached thousands. The world and specifically for me as a Brit, the United Kingdom, would be a different place had it not been for these courageous men and women.
The afternoon was fun, collaborative, reflective and poignant. A volunteer shift I won’t forget, of course, I bought my souvenir ceramic poppy which is a special reminder for me and my monetary contribution to the £8 million raised for the 6 charities associated with the project: Cobseo, Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help For Heroes, The Royal British Legion and SSAFA.
Don’t forget the Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window are still touring – check the website for upcoming dates and locations
Borrowed from the Tower of London website; after 100 years, stories of the First World War are fading from memory. How can we keep them alive?