Linda and I travelled down to London today to visit the Tower of London as the “Tower of London Remembers, ” fittingly closes on November 11th. It was ironic that today was the day BBC Radio 5 chose to have a heated debate on the merits of filling the Tower moat with a Sea of Red which was a reflection of the 888,000 men who lost their lives in the Great War.
I hadn’t actually considered that some would be outraged or disgusted at the tribute but the Radio 5 listeners often surprise me. I hadn’t actually considered that using art to commemorate the sacrifices made was bad form, In fact my memory abounds of many using creative media to report, explain, understand or exorcise. I haven’t read much poetry in my life but I was given a pocket book of Siegfried Sassoon poetry as a small boy by my Mother “because it was important” and I remember that among the first films my Father bought after obtaining a Bell & Howell 8mm projector was “Wings over the Western Front”. The flickering black and white images offered in silence were poignant statements, the lyrical words emphasised the horror; 888,000 poppies rammed home the sheer volume of lost life. What other way would there be to show what 888,000 looks like? Each poppy a person, each poppy a telegram, each poppy a wake of despair and a future irrevocably changed. Art? Maybe. Brutal? definitely. Fitting? absolutely.
We managed to find a reasonably quiet spot, near Traitors Gate, to take a moment to reflect. I’m in no way religious and I believe that those who wish for war should be the first into the melee, rather than barking orders from a safe distance but the words of the poem that is rolled out every Remembrance Sunday echoed around my head. “They shall not grow old as we grow old, ….Age shall not weary them, … They sleep beyond England’s foam.”
Somewhere in that moat was my Great Grandfather, he didn’t make it back across the foam in any manner. Lost forever in the mud of the Somme. I picked a Poppy, it seemed brighter than the rest, that was him. I shared a moment in the pouring rain and considered what had been and what could have been, for things were certainly very different for those he left behind. I then looked across the “bloodswept land” and tried to take in the 888,000 futures that could have been.
There are plenty of ways to dispute the validity of war. There are plenty of ways to show anger at a system and plenty of ways to try and push a twisted vision of patriotism The Poppy isn’t one of them it is as it was meant to be, an icon of Remberance.