Between the months of July and November 2014 17,500 volunteers took part in the major art installation at the Tower of London, marking one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.
I was one of those volunteers.
My Great Grandfather fought in World War Two, so when I found out about the project I took the first possible opportunity to volunteer my time as a mark of respect for him and all those service men who did, and still do fight for our freedom.
Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the project involved planting 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for each military fatality during the war.
My shift began one early Saturday afternoon in September. Like minded volunteers congregated at the volunteers office to be issued with t-shirt, gloves and protective eye wear. Once issued with the kit we needed, and introduced to our team leader, we were requested to watch a short video. This showed us how the poppies were made and how we were expected to put them together for plantation.
On this day I was extremely lucky to be “planting poppies” in the most significant part of the installation – where visitors could see the poppies spilling out from the Tower above.
To say the experience was surreal would be an understatement. The installation was obviously creating large amount of visitors, and with it being a Saturday lunch time the numbers of people watching was increasing by the minute. The audience was huge, with some even shouting down questions into the moat.
Everyone who was volunteering had their own reasons and were happy to do so. Such a diverse range of people were brought together for such a poignant task – from single adults and school children, to scout groups and retirees. It was such an amazing opportunity for people to come together – some travelling far to take part in such a great project.
When I signed up to volunteer I did not completely comprehend the scope of the task, about what 888,246 poppies would look like against the iconic Tower of London. On the day itself the enormity of what I was taking part in hit me – every single poppy represented a life. Each one represented a person who died fighting for our freedom.
Volunteering for this project was one of the most humbling experiences I have faced to date. Emotions for most taking part were high and it is fair to say that this has to be one of my proudest moments. Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Armistice Day approaches this weekend. And every year I hope for peace. I hope we can continue to be good people. To encourage good and educate future generations, in the hope that one day we will have world peace.