They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Well these are worth 888, 246. Or at least they will when the poppy memorial at the Tower of London is finished: the last poppy will be planted just before the two minute silence on 11 November- Armistice Day. The display, by artist Paul Cummins, is designed to hold one handmade, ceramic poppy for each of the British soldiers who were killed in World War 1 between 1914-1918 , marking the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the war.
I had heard a lot about the poppy memorial and was keen to go and see it. The exhibit is intended to be removed on 12 November and the poppies sent off to the members of the public who had paid £25 for one- the proceeds of which are going to charity. Unsurprisingly they sold out. On Friday 7 November, I headed into the city an hour early for work so that I could see the display before it was gone.
My dad had been a few days before and said the crowds were like a football stadium. He had to lift his camera over the crowd and take a picture in order to see the poppies- and he’s 6ft 5. At 8.30 in the morning, it was much quieter, although it still took me about 15 minutes to walk around about two thirds of the memorial, dodging the people flocking in.
At first glance, all you see is a sea of red then, as you look closer, you can see each individual poppy standing alone at varying heights. The beautiful exhibition wraps itself around the Tower of London and the number of poppies is staggering- and sobering when you know what they represent. As I took it all in, I could only really notice the noise from the traffic nearby when I stopped focusing on the poppies.
The exhibition has captured the interest of people from all over the world, as evidenced by the tourists I saw and the eleven languages on the information sign. People stood all along the fence, gazing at the poppies or reading the information on hand or the tributes people had left to loved ones lost in the war. There were also several people taking pictures of themselves in front of the memorial display; I didn’t know how to feel about that.
There has been a recent debate about whether the poppies should be kept on display for longer, given the amount of people who still want to see them. I can see the arguments on both sides. On the one hand, the memorial was meant to be fleeting and, like the lives of those lost in the war, taken before their time. On the other, much like the cemeteries and battlefields of Belgium and France, the memorial is something that is important to visit to help people begin to comprehend the extent of those lost in the First World War and so that we can remember them. For that reason, as many people should see it as possible.
Whilst the display will still be dismantled on 12 November, the iconic Wave and Weeping Willow segments will remain until the end of the month, before being taken around the country and later placed permanently in the Imperial War Museum for all to see.