Last weekend I spent a few hours knee deep in ceramic poppies at the Tower of London.
No, I’m not going completely mad, and yes they knew I was there doing it, I had not just snuck in of my own accord. I had volunteered to help plant ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower as a part of an installation called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ which is being put in place as a remembrance of the lives of British soldiers lost during World War One. 888,246 poppies to be planted, one for each life lost.
Coming out of Tower Hill underground station you can already see the poppies and the crowds of people looking down at them. The crowds extend pretty much all the way around the tower.
Looking down into the moat the poppies are a really spectacular sight, a sea of red which is starting to ring the Tower. It is hard to make out any individual poppies from here, it is the overall effect that takes your breath away.
Once you get down to ground level you can see the poppies in all their individual and unique beauty. Although they are made from exactly the same initial shapes of clay the fact that they are shaped by hand makes each an individual. Even the glazes vary from really shiny to matt and all ranges in between.
As a volunteer you get to get ‘up close and personal’ with the poppies as you are planting them by hand. You also get given a volunteer t-shirt and a badge which you get to keep. I met some lovely people and had a few fascinating conversations.
I’m not quite sure how many poppies I planted in the end, but this is my little ‘patch’ (just the ones at the front obviously!). It soon got swallowed up into the whole, though I do reckon that I can still pick out the general area where they are.
As a whole shift we had 5000 poppies allocated to be planted, we seemed to get through them very quickly, then spent the time making up the stems so the next shift could get started planting straight away. Once that was done we had the chance to wander around the moat and take pictures of the poppies.
I came across this little fellow who seemed quite confused about what was going on…….
Further round the moat where the poppies have been in place longer the grass has started to grow between them, it makes them seem like they have been there a lot longer than a few weeks. There are even some rogue elements out to join the installation….
I really enjoyed being a part of the whole poppy planting process. It somehow seems wrong to say that I enjoyed it, but I do not know of the appropriate word. Its mixed emotions really, you stand there admiring the whole you see before you, taking in the beauty of it, then you suddenly remember what each poppy represents and it is overwhelming and emotional. That many lives…..
Planting of the poppies will be carrying on until 11th November when the last poppy will be put in place. Volunteers are still needed to help plant, if you would like to know any more about the installation itself or to volunteer your time to help then go to www.poppies.hrp.org.uk all the information you need is there.
If you are in London between now and 11th November I would highly recommend that you go and have a look, it is well worth the visit.
Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .