Veterans Day, which the U.S. is marking today, commemorates the end of World War I. In Europe, they call it Armistice Day, and these photographs are of celebrations in London in the form of red ceramic poppies that cover the ground around the Tower of London. There’s a poppy for every member of Britain’s former colonies who died in the war.
NPR’s Ari Shapiro visited the site in August. Here’s how he described them:
“The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London are not planted in orderly rows. They look like an undulating sea from afar. Up close, each bloom is unique. Droplets cling to them from a recent shower. Against the walls of the tower, they crest like a wave of water — or, given the color, like a wave of blood. They cascade from one of the tower windows to the ground like a waterfall, and a 30-foot curl of red poppies crests over the tower’s main entrance.”
Jim Duncan, one of the Yeoman Warders, the iconic beefeaters who live and work at the tower, told NPR at the time: “You get the goose pimples. You get the lump in the throat.”
Poppies are a symbol of remembrance of World War I, which ended 96 years ago today, because of a poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae called “In Flanders Field.”
The display of poppies at the Tower of London — officially titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” — has drawn some 4 million people since it opened in August. As Ari notes, the name “comes from a poem written by an anonymous soldier in World War I.”
The first of the 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each soldier from Britain and its colonies who died, was planted Aug. 5. The last one was planted today by 13-year-old army cadet Harry Hayes, whose great-great-great-uncle, Pvt. Patrick Kelly of the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, was among those who died in the fighting.
The BBC has more on today’s ceremonies at the Tower of London:
“The silence at the Tower of London … wasn’t just observed for two minutes, as elsewhere in the country.
“For a chunk of time at this major tourist attraction, most people were lost in their thoughts. Those who did chat spoke only in hushed tones to those beside them.
“Armistice Day marks a century of sacrifice from the First World War to Afghanistan.
“For many the art installation at the Tower has been an opportunity to reconnect with their own family’s past.
“As they stood around the moat of the former fortress, palace and prison they spoke of the loss their relatives had experienced and of the need to remember.
“All eyes were on the poppies. Their existence, girdling this ancient monument, induced a temporary state of near reverence.
“Each poppy represents an individual who didn’t grow old.”
Part of the display of ceramic poppies will be preserved and go on tour, The Associated Press reported last week. Here’s more from the news service:
“The poppies are due to be removed starting the next day, and sent to people who have bought them in return for donations to military charities.
“But there have been calls from politicians and members of the public to keep the installation open longer.
“Prime Minister David Cameron visited the site Saturday, saying it had become a ‘much loved and respected monument.’ ”
“Cameron said parts of the display, including a ‘wave’ of poppies rising beside an entrance to the centuries-old Tower, would remain until the end of the month before going on a national tour. They eventually will be preserved in the Imperial War Museum.”
We’ll leave you with the words of the poem by McCrae that made the poppies a symbol of remembrance:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
And here are some other stories from NPR that mark Veterans Day: