3 November 2014

Poppies and a veil of tears

We left a bright and sunny Birmingham to journey south to the city where the streets are paved with poppies, so we're told. We arrived in London to grey skies and heavy rain. The purpose of the journey was to view the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red; an art installation by Paul Cummins, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, or the Great War as it was known until all hell broke loose once again in 1939.

I'm not an art critic so I cannot comment on the artistic side of this. What I can say is that it takes your breath away on first sighting. It is as though a river of blood runs around the Tower of London. 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a soldier who died from the UK and Commonwealth countries during the Great War, makes a visually stunning and sobering sight. For me on a personal level it works as an act of remembrance. It is not a celebration of the so called glories of war, for me there are none, nor does it glorify state violence on a mass scale, it uses the simplicity of the globally recognised emblem of remembrance, the poppy, to provoke thought, remembrance and to reflect upon the utter futility of war and the damage caused to individuals and families that like the blood that flowed during the war, cascaded down the generations.

We found a relatively quiet spot to stand silently by the moat, each wrapped up in our own thoughts. The rain was apt, providing a veil of tears through which the river of blood flowed.

Of my four Great Grandfathers, three played their part in that war to end all wars. One was killed in action, two were injured and eventually returned home, the other was too old to serve but saw three of his sons leave the village, one of which, never returned. Today I remembered all of them and also their nearest and dearest and what they must have gone through during those four hellish years and the years that followed.

I found it all very deeply affecting but then for me this wasn't a trip to 'the must see art installation of the decade', it was part of my personal act of remembrance this year. Alas many amongst the crowds were not there for the same reason. I had heard that the crowds were respectful but saw little evidence of this whilst being jostled by someone trying to get just the right angle for just the right picture, or for smiling family group photographs set against the backdrop of a river of blood, or the shouting and loud laughter. Maybe we just went on the wrong day.

If you can make it to London before the 12th, when each poppy will be lifted, cleaned and then boxed up and sent on to all those people who have purchased one of the poppies, then do go because  it is a very special thing to see.

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