Saturday, 29 June 2019

888,246 Poppies Were Made

Simon's Poppy

CHGC member Simon was in the UK this year and he was gifted a ceramic poppy from the Tower of London Armistice Day celebrations. These poppies were auctioned off after the event, and a friend of his purchased one knowing Simon's interest in the First World War.

About the Poppies

A major art installation titled 'Blood Swept Lands & Seas of Red' at the Tower of London marked 100 years since the first full day of Britain's involvement in the First World War.  888,246 ceramic poppies were used in this installation (see picture above) and progressively filled the moat at the Tower of London representing each and every British and colonial fatality during that war.

Making so many ceramic poppies is not achieved quickly. Each poppy had six petals (one for each charity that Paul Cummins, artist, wanted to support post installation). It took 300 people at three different locations a year to roll, cut and shape every poppy by hand and each poppy is unique. It was vital that there were exactly the correct number of poppies to represent each and every British and colonial life lost during World War I, so the poppies weren't just counted at the factories, but the Beefeaters also did a count as well.

To see behind the scenes at a factory where the poppies were made, watch this short video.

The idea of the installation came about due to bad weather really! Artist Paul Cummins sought shelter in a library and decided to read wills (as you do...). Paul found a will that had been written phonetically (he suffers from dyslexia) so found it very easy to read. This will was written by a woman who had disguised herself as a man and had gone off to fight (and die) in the First World War. Paul really connected with a phrase in her will 'Blood swept lands and seas of red where angles feared to tread'. This phrase brought home to him just how many had been killed, so Paul did research and discovered that there had been 888,246 British and Colonial military fatalities.

The installation at the Tower of London is another 'by chance' event for Cummins - Paul had tried three locations before he sought approval from the Tower of London. He was successful in 'getting through' at the Tower because the deputy governor had a friend named Paul Cummins! He didn't stop talking about his idea, convincing the deputy governor that this installation should run for Armistice Day 2014.  

A huge team of volunteers planted them in the moat. When looking onto the sea of red, one feels overwhelmed by the thought of so many people sacrificing themselves for what we have now.

'Blood Swept Lands & Seas of Red'
installation at the Tower of London 2014

Poppies have been symbolic for remembrance and The Poppy Factory was established in Richmond, London in 1922 to offer employment opportunities to wounded soldiers returning from WWI, creating products for the Royal family and The Royal British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal. 

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