Tag Archives: World War I

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


Letter to an Unknown Soldier

There is a charitable organisation called http://www.1418now.org.uk.  It was advertised on BBC Breakfast this morning.  There is a statue of an unknown soldier at platform 1 on Paddington Station.  The soldier is reading a letter, so the organisation is inviting people to write a letter to the soldier, to commemorate World War One.  This is my letter:

Dear Tommy

Are you the Grandad I never met?  The one who didn’t get to meet his three sons nor see them grow to manhood?  The one who was unable to be with his wife when his baby daughter died?

What a loss for you and my Grandmother, the one we just called Gran.  She did a sterling job with those boys, you’d be proud, they grew to be fine men, all with a trade.  She instilled morals and values in them that made them grow into honest, proud men.  They were all proud to fight in the Second World War.  And, unlike you, they came home to tell the tale.

Of course, the one of whom I’m most proud is the eldest, the one who was my father.  The one I watched playing cricket and football so well.  He must have inherited those skills from you.  I bet you would have had so much fun playing football and cricket with those boys.

How awful was it for you in those trenches?  I don’t know much about them, except that you were standing shoulder to shoulder with your mates, ripe for the killing.  That they were wet and full of rats.  That the clothes you wore were really not fit for purpose,  and it must have been horrible.  I bet you must have felt so lonely and that makes me feel really sad for you.  I bet you missed having your fry up for breakfast in the comfort of your own home, and your roast beef and Yorkshire pud on a Sunday.  Gran was a fine cook, so you’d have been well catered for.

Did you know that she ended up as a cook in one of the richest households in London?  In service, as it was called in those days.  She worked her way up from the bottom, and ended up in that exalted position of cook.   She left there to go to Carshalton Childrens’ Hospital, and the stories she told from there were something else.

What was it all for Tommy?  Oh, I know what the rhetoric, of course.  There’s always rhetoric.  But really, what was it for?  We, the Allies, lost about 6 million military personnel. Somewhere between 700,000 and 800,000 of them were from Britain.  I assume that’s mostly soldiers, but I don’t know.    Over 20 million people were wounded, and if the TV programmes I’ve seen are anything to go by, some of those wounded were amputees, or worse.  I know that we shot soldiers for desertion when, often, they were suffering from what we now call PTSD.  So what did it all achieve, when, only 21 years later, we were at it all over again.  I’m not a historian, but I somehow think that there was a link between the two wars.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you Tommy, but I’m grateful for what you did.  If not for you, I might not be here now, sitting up in bed, typing on my laptop.

Thank you Tommy, to all of you Tommies.

With love.


©Susan Shirley 2014