Tag Archives: poppies

Halloween, Half-Term, London Poppy Day


Yes folks, it’s that time of year again… Halloween and Half-Term, and London Poppy Collections. Halloween (today) is on a Friday night this year, which means that the little kiddiewinks can stay up later because it’s not a school night. More time for them to be out “Trick or Treating” or egging your door if you happen to be out or just not answer. Yes, call me Mrs Scrooge if you like, but I find it distinctly off-putting answering my door to something dressed up like an extra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t remember Trick-or-Treating when I was a child, and apparently it didn’t become common in the UK until the 1980s (so I only just missed it then!  ) although it dates back to the Middle Ages when people did something called “souling.” This was when the poor would go house-to-house on Hallowmas (1 November) and in return for food, would pray for the souls of the dead on All Souls Day (2 November). However, Trick-or-Treating was big business in the US and Canada as far back as the 1940s, and good old Walt Disney made a cartoon about it in 1952. (Thanks Walt, now everyone knows about it! She said through gritted teeth.)

Halloween itself, also known as All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is one of those Christian festivals believed to have Pagan roots. Or not, depending on which expert you choose to believe.

The Pagan bit related to the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. The Christian bit is about obligation for the souls of the departed, and even good old Will referred to it in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. (Sorry, I’m not telling you where, you will have to read it or go and see the play.)

Apparently, the souls of the dead wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, so All Hallows’ Eve was their last chance to get vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. Ah! Now I understand the weird and wonderful costumes that we see. And, apparently people wore masks to conceal their identities. (I’m not convinced that would work with ghosts, but hey, what do I know?)


Yesterday was London Poppy Day, the day when service personnel and other volunteers go to a large number of Central London underground stations and so on to try to collect as much money as possible for the Poppy Appeal.

It’s quite a fun day and you get to meet some lovely people, some really generous people, but yesterday, for me, was the most humbling day of my life. We stop collecting at 7pm and all the collectors were huddled in a corner of the station so that the person in charge could put all the money into sealable bags and we could put all the excess poppies in a safe place until they would be collected the following day.

As we were standing there, a chap came over, someone I have seen about before. He handed over a big bag of coins. I couldn’t see what they all were but I can tell you that they weren’t all 1p pieces, and it was a heavy bag.

“Excuse me, these are from the homeless. I’ve been round and collected if from them.”

I felt like crying. I know that a lot of homeless people are ex-forces, but these are people that don’t have very much, and yet they dug deep to give to our troops. I can tell you right now, I wasn’t the only one who was really touched by what this chap did.

Way to go homeless people, everyone there yesterday was saluting you too!


© Susan Shirley 2014


Poppies at the Tower of London

The Tower of London, September 2014
The Tower of London, September 2014

I went to the Tower of London today, to see the exhibition of poppies. To put it more correctly, it is the Installation of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, to commemorate 100 years since Britain joined the First World War. There have been a number of events commemorating the war this year, and regular readers will have seen my Letter to an Unknown Solder back in June.

The poppies have been “planted” all around the Tower, in the area that once was the moat. They come out of a couple of the windows and are growing in number on a daily basis. Eventually, there will be 888,246 poppies filling the moat. Even though I’d seen photographs, I wasn’t prepared for the vast expanse of scarlet in front of me, as I walked towards the Tower. It was absolutely beautiful but, at the same time, poignant. Knowing what the poppies were there to represent made me feel a little bit sad.

The Tower of London September 2014
The Tower of London September 2014

The poppies are all ceramic, and the number on show is added to every day. Each poppy represents the life of someone in the British forces who died during World War I. Note this is just the British Forces, not members of the public or anyone else involved. The poppies were created by Paul Cummins, a ceramic artist. I’ll confess to knowing nothing about him before this, but he doesn’t just make flowers, he makes all sorts of ceramics. You can read more about Paul here:


The layout was designed by Tom Piper, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Associate theatre designer. He’s done Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice and Anthony and Cleopatra, to name but a few, so no great surprise that he’s done such a fabulous job.


Every day at sunset, the names of 180 Commonwealth troops killed during the First World War are being read out as part of a Roll of Honour, this is then followed by the Last Post. (I didn’t stay for this today, but intend to go back for it another day.) Members of the public can nominate names to be read out for the Roll of Honour. See http://poppies.hrp.org.uk/about-the-installation for more information.

The Tower of London with the Shard
The Tower of London with the Shard

I’ve taken photographs from all angles around the Tower, so that you can see what the poppies look like at the moment. The last one is due to be laid on 11 November – Armistice Day.

The poppies are for sale, you can buy them now, the total cost, including postage and packing is £30.95. Net proceeds plus 10% from every poppy sold will go to one of the following charities:

Cobseo – I’d never heard of this one before. www.cobseo.org.uk

Combat Stress – This is tremendous charity, dealing with things like PTSD. A disappointingly high number of ex-forces personnel end up homeless when they leave the forces, and one of the reasons is that they struggle to fit into civilian life because those of that have never been to theatre of war just can’t understand what they have been through. Combat Stress can help with this. www.combatstress.org.uk

Coming Home – Another one I’d never heard of, but they provide specially adapted homes for those (far too many) service personnel who were injured and disabled. They also provide general housing for ex-service personnel. www.coming-home.org.uk

Help for Heroes – do you know, I don’t really know exactly what they do, but anyway.


The Royal British Legion – this is the one that most of us know about and is the biggest forces charity.


SSAFA – If I get this right, it’s Sailors, Soldiers and Air Forces Association.



Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

While I was there, I took the opportunity to have a bit of a mooch around the general area, and took a few other photographs – The Shard behind HMS Belfast, and Tower Bridge. I’ve also taken photographs of the little church there at Tower Hill, All Hallows by The Tower, which is the oldest church in the City.

All Hallows Church
All Hallows Church

This is one of those churches that was founded by Barking Abbey in 675AD. John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States of America, was married here in 1797. Unfortunately, the church suffered bomb damage during the Second World War and only the tower and walls of the original church remain. It was rebuilt, and rededicated in 1957.


Memorial to those who died during the First World War, at Tower Hill
Memorial to those who died during the First World War, at Tower Hill

©Susan Shirley 2014