Today was one of those days that words just cannot describe. Wow.
I got up early to meet my friend Katie to walk to the Tower of London because we had a time slot to volunteer in the moat, helping to dismantle the Tower of London Poppies Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation.
Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies in the installation represents a British life lost during World War I. On July 17, the first poppy was “planted” and Tuesday 11 November, a thirteen-year-old army cadet planted the last one. The poppies were planted to appear as a sea of blood coming from the Tower’s Weeping Window (see below).
We arrived at the Tower early, which was perfect–we didn’t have to fight tourists for pictures of the full moat! Here are some of my favorite shots (I forewarn—there are lots of poppy pictures in this post…)
We had some time to spare so we decided to try out a White Mulberries at St. Katharine’s Docks, a little area right by the Tower that I had yet to explore. The cafe and area were super cute! I can’t wait to go back!
We headed back to our meeting place which was under the ticket booths. Allocated into group 9, we excitedly awaited our instruction for the rest of the morning! Before I get going on what we did for the rest of the morning, I want to say how awesome the people with us were. There were maybe two other American besides us (and they had been living here for years) and the rest of the men and women were British. It was honestly the most British people I had been around at one time since coming to London (hurrah for super international cities!). Throughout the day we chatted over the poppies and many “sorry”‘s were exchanged. The sense of camaraderie and coming together over the activity was amazing as well.
So once we got briefed on safety measures (i.e. don’t impale yourself with the metal rods) we were handed little buttons that would tell the beefeaters we were legally allowed into the moat. So glad we got a souvenir for volunteering!
We headed outside and over and into the moat. I can’t describe what I was feeling as we walked in—you can’t go into the moat regularly at all. The Queen and Prime Minister were recently there. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer was there earlier that morning too! Needless to say, I was walking where few (or a few thousand) had walked before! The wave of volunteers taking poppy pictures upon entering the moat was crazy and we, of course, joined in!
We headed to our station where we had to build our work tent (well, we watched a few men build the tent…) But then we started pulling out the poppies! Our supervisor, who looked uncannily like Benedict Cumberbatch, gave us instructions on how to get the poppies up without breaking them, stabbing ourselves, or stabbing other people, and, fitted with garden gloves and goggles, off we went!
Katie and I spent about an hour and a half pulling out the poppies, where we had to separate the washers, rods, and poppies into different groups. For the last 30 minutes (when it poured) we sorted out the washers under the tent and luckily stayed dry.
While it was a fun experience overall, chatting with new people and getting time outside and just being in such a unique place, I kept remembering how each poppy I was pulling up represented a life lost 100 years ago. The small dent we made at the end of our three-hour shift was a testament to just how many losses Britain experienced—It’s one thing to read about it in a textbook or on a website, but it’s another thing to experience it firsthand. You don’t quite realise how large a number 888,246 is until it’s staring you in the face.
It’s also surreal to see the majority of people with poppies on their jacket lapels as I walk around London. It amazing to see the poppy wreaths laid at the World War memorial on Embankment. The buses and the taxis all have poppies on their grills. Everyone remembers, just as the poem says we will:
This has been my favorite day in London so far. Here are some more pictures from the experience!