On the 28th of July 1914, WW1 broke out in Europe. People expected the war to be finished within a few months, but it in fact, the war lasted for four years. British colonials headed off to fight in Northern France and Flanders, and many, never came back home.
As part of remembrance for the solders who lost there lives and importantly, to commemorate one hundred years since the first world war outbreak the relatively unknown artist Paul Cummins and creative stage director, Tim Piper, created a Poppy installation in the bare moat of the Tower of London. The poppies were made from ceramic and were individually hand-made at Cummins’ ceramics works in Derbyshire, and some at Johnson Tiles in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent.
The poppies were added to the installation progressively by volunteers starting on the 1st of September and finishing on the 11th of November, and as the amount of poppies in the moat grew each night 180 names of the men who died for the British/Commonwealth during the war, were read out. Afterwards, as the sun began to set, the last post anthem would be sounded on the Bugle.
Overall, there were 888,246 poppies “planted”. The name of the installation, ‘blood swept lands and seas of red’ comes from the poem written by an unknown author, before he climbed over the trench wall and into no-mans-land.
It is said, that Paul Cummins was looking through some old war files for inspiration for the project among old records in Chesterfield, when he came across the poem contained in the unknown soldier’s unsigned will.
The Blood swept lands And Seas Of Red.
By Anon – Unknown Soldier
The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare
As I put my hand
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine
fell to the ground,
To sleep with the
flowers of red,
As any be dead.
My children see and work through
fields of my
Own with corn
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around,
And the rain so thick with black
thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more.
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time
to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me.
During the whole installation, the reaction from the public, nationally and internationally was incredible. The crowds who gathered to see the installation were large and at times surprising. It became so popular towards the final weeks that David Cameron and Boris Johnson led calls for it to be extended so more people could visit. However, some people were unimpressed and a man called Jonathan Jones said it was “a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial.” Jones-( A Guardian visual art critic and one time winner of the Turner award) caused immediate backlashes.
To highlight the Guardian Critics remark the Daily Mail used, –
“Why DO the left despise patriotism” as their main headline on the front of their newspaper, to which even Tim Piper replied by saying that;
“it is a remarkably good thing that it is so accessible. We should not be trying to create something that is difficult to understand.”
During the entire installation there were visits from Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge on the day of its opening, it was also visited by Queen Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh during its installment on 16 October.
The Queen later spoke about the memorial in her Christmas Message in 2014.
Overall, it is believed that over five million people from all around the world visited the installation in the towers moat and even today, watching videos of the feat and looking at photographs from the completed installation is overwhelmingly touching.
I thought that writing an article about this poem and installation would be apt for a number of reasons. In English lessons over the past couple of weeks ( during home school lessons after completing studies around the Mystery genre ) we moved on to the topic of The War Poets-(Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brookes, Siegfried Sassoon etc )-and we have been studying famous, renown poems such as Dulce et decorum est, The Solider, The Sentry and Memorial Tablet. It’s interesting that what was an unknown poem by an anonymous writer up until recently is now probably as iconic as the poems mentioned above. The other important reason for this article is, of course, that today is Remembrance Day.11:11:11
To me, the installation of ” Blood Red Seas was an amazing creation and I believe it was a beautiful piece of artwork that made many millions of people weep and cry. It illustrated that a century on that one nation will never forget. It commemorated the thousands of people who died, each being represented by a ceramic poppy being planted to represent the blood of their death, and perhaps now through their relatives a new generation, the flowers representing new life.
Although it was only on display from September to November, I personally think it should have stayed open for longer so even more people could have come to witness it and the remembering that the whole installation created.
To conclude, the installation was a great memorial to those who lost there lives during World War One, and I believe it was a piognant, but at the same time, an imaginative and timeless way to commemorate the ‘Great War’ and its lost soldiers.