Much of the United Kingdom is focused on the events of a century ago when the war to end all wars began to take shape. Alliances designed to prevent conflict married with an outdated sense of the honour of war would result in the four year conflict claiming an estimated 16 million lives.
So how to remember such an event – indeed should it be remembered or do we risk glamorising the very history we seek to recognise? Some suggested that with the death of the last Tommy (Harry Patch) we should scale back memorials of World War 1 and assign it no more significance than other historic wars. The argument that the Napoleonic and Boer wars were as significant to the families who lost loved ones is undeniable; For me however, this doesn’t remove the need to mark the sheer scale and waste associated with World War One.
I must admit to having cringed at a number of the means of marking various memorials to mark a specific event in the course to war. A series of bad plays and non-descript public installations seem to have little impact – at least on me. I think those who gave their lives (willingly or unwittingly) deserve something more impressive and lasting than that.
One simple yet deeply touching memorials is the field of remembrance being created at the Tower of London at present. Tens of thousands of ceramic poppies cascading from the tower, through the historic moat and around the grounds are incredibly effective. I couldn’t help but be struck by the imagery and symbolism in this silent yet powerful tribute. A single (beefeater) checking the footpaths before the installation was opened to the public set a powerful reminder that each poppy remembers a life lost. In fact, the creator of this striking piece reminds us that each poppy represents around 1,000 souls depending on your preferred estimate of lives lost in the conflict.
One of the most touching aspects (and the strongest argument I can think of for the continued remembrance) was the addition of 50 poppies by a German family remembering the members of their extended family lost during the course of the Great War. The thought of England and Germany resorting to armed conflict does seem like something consigned to the history of another time.
The ceramic poppies will remain a focal point for the country to mark the outbreak of World War 1 until November. They will form part of the remembrance day ceremonies to mark the armistice later this year. Such a simple, but powerful image is one that will stay with me for many years.