Back in August I managed to get up to London to see the Poppies in the Moat installation at the Tower of London and thought that it was incredible. Then Helen came home from work saying that others had volunteered to plant the poppies and that we should too, so we applied.
Our first choice date in early September was already full and so we were allocated the morning of 31st October. October 31st! So we got out our waterproofs in readiness for what was obviously going to be a cold and wet morning in the moat of the Tower. They day before the forecast was for 21 degrees and even then I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it and so took a coat and sweatshirt. As it turned out it reached 24 degrees (October 31st!) and it was definitely tee shirt weather.
After a orientation video our “team” was taken to the spot where we were going to be planting. It was a long way as you can see from this video, in fact it was as far away as you could get from the entry point. It did give us an opportunity to see the whole installation at very close range.
We were split into two “teams” – one planting and the others putting together the stems (“small washer, larger washer, spacer, cap”). There wasn’t anything taxing about the planting but the poppies aren’t all at the same level so we had to make sure the changes in height were smooth but apart from that it was a doddle. Assembling the stems was another matter however. The washers were a complete sod to put on and the spacers were drilled with ever so different sized holes and I quickly became able to spot those with a larger hole.
It was while we were assembling stems that others on our table started looking over into the distance and whispering. “Isn’t that Nicholas Witchell?”, “Who’s he?”, “You know, off Radio 4”. A look over quickly established that it was in fact John Humphreys from the Today programme. He came over and interviewed a couple of others in our “team” before having a go at assembling a stem and planting. When he struggled with assembling the stem our team leader showed him a quick way which he had neglected to show us…
Here is Humphreys including a picture I took but not attributed as the BBC said they would.
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) November 1, 2014
If you have been wondering why I have referred to our team as “team” that’s because it became obvious that some weren’t happy to act as a team. Poppy planting is what everyone had come to do. It was fun and not terribly hard work. Making stems was not what we had signed up for and was hard work (comparatively speaking) and so some chose not to come and swap at the allotted times and there was some dissension in the ranks at this. Notwithstanding this we raced through our allotted poppies and were able to leave an hour earlier than we had expected which was a bit of a relief.
Poppies in the moat is a fantastic piece of art and incredibly popular: there were crowds of people above us watching while we planted, the volunteering was over subscribed and every single one of the poppies has been sold. A tremendous success all round.
Of course it is there to mark the death of British and colonial soldiers in the first world war, one poppy for each death. With it being a time of relative peace now and with modern warfare not based on the deployment of so many ground troops we are unlikely to see so many combat deaths again. At least I hope that’s the case.