Corn Poppies in Holm, 2004 (oil on canvas) by Susanne Wind

A Day to Remember

In her own words Beatrice Okoro, Bridgeman’s UK Account Manager for TV and Film, recalls taking part in the artistic installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ that sees the Tower of London’s moat filled with over 800,000 ceramic poppies.  

The day arrived for me to volunteer at the Tower of London to plant the ceramic poppies, commemorating all the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War.  I had seen the beginning of the art installation earlier in the summer when I cycled past and it was slowly cascading down from the Tower’s wall. I had also seen pictures in the newspapers of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge planting poppies and when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited, surrounded by a sea of red. I was definitely anticipating a day to remember.

 

Tower of London. November 2014. Photo by Beatrice Okoro

 

Planting the ceramic poppies 

A hundred of us gathered in a room and were given our t-shirts and shown a video by the artist Paul Cummins who created “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”. He talked about the significance of the poppies and about his team that worked 24 hours creating 888,246 ceramic poppy heads.  We were shown a video by the Tower’s Beefeaters, demonstrating how to put the flowers together, and then suddenly we walked out onto the Tower’s moat. It was a magnificent sight.  We were put in groups: some planting, others making up the poppies and we felt like a community despite coming from different areas. I met people from Essex, Hertfordshire as well as London. During our time in the moat visitors to the Tower stopped to take photographs and it did feel very surreal.

 

Beatrice Okoro outside the Tower of London installation
Beatrice Okoro outside the Tower of London installation

 

A moving tribute to those that had fallen 

Within three hours, we had managed to plant 6,000 poppies. After our shift, we were allowed to walk around the Tower and see the installation. Most of us walked in silence looking at the poppies, thinking how each one represented a loved one that had died in a war that happened 100 years ago.  Then it was over. As I walked toward the gates to cycle home I was stopped by two women who asked me whether I had planted the poppies. One of them told me that her sister was blind and as she couldn’t see the poppies she was wondering whether she could touch the ceramic piece of art. I took them back to the office and asked the security guard if this was possible. He said to leave it to him and then went downstairs to collect a poppy. I felt very humble that I could see this amazing art installation in all its glory, but for the blind woman- her way to take part in this event was by touch.

Looking at a poppy won’t be the same again. After Armistice Day all the poppies will be pulled up and sold on.

 

Tower of London. November 14. Photo by Beatrice Okoro
Tower of London. November 2014. Photo by Beatrice Okoro

Find out more

Honour Remembrance Day via the archives of military collections represented by Bridgeman Images

World War One Centenary – key themes to aid your research.

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