The Left sneered. But these poppies reconnect us to a generation of heroes we never knew, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
By Robert Hardman for the Daily Mail
8 November 2014
As for any talk of a ‘Ukip-style memorial’? It only goes to show how little the Left understands the real world.
The Left-wing arts establishment, which chucks millions at pointless tat providing it ticks the relevant politically correct boxes, failed to see the point of this. Shame on them all
This dazzling ceramic display has become the perfect riposte to today’s vapid, tokenistic, ‘me, me, me’ mindset, typified by those fatuous feminist T-shirts which public figures must wear for fear of being labelled sexist. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has not yet found time to visit the poppies, but he has felt obliged to pose for the cameras in a T-shirt saying: ‘This is what a feminist looks like’, and also gormlessly chop carrots on a day-time TV cookery slot.
The last time a crowd this huge stood here in total silence, they had come to see the Jacobite rebel, Lord Lovat, lose his head.
There were no stewards in hi-viz jackets back in 1747. In fact, 20 spectators died when a grandstand collapsed ahead of what would be the last public execution on Tower Hill.
The atmosphere’s entirely different today but there is unquestionably the same sense of history, the same formidable symbol of Crown authority, the sombre multitude staring intently, the sea of red...
Pensioner Albert Willis, 79, former Grenadier Guard and a serving Grenadier Guard among the poppies
Families and day-trippers flock to the Blood Swept Lands and Sea of art installation at the Tower of London
For what started out as an eccentric artistic exercise just three months ago, is now something truly historic.
It’s not just that millions of people from all around the world have turned up to marvel at a work of modern art which can reduce grown men to tears, or that the leaders of all the main parties are in agreement about something — they all want next week’s scheduled poppy harvest to be postponed.
The Tower of London’s 2014 poppy installation is no longer just a tribute to each one of the 888,246 British troops who died in the Great War.
It’s become a monument to the way the British view themselves: dutiful, patient, original, compassionate and mindful of the past without being rooted in it.
And whatever happens to these poppies, an important public space which has sat largely empty since the days of William the Conqueror is now destined to be a national commemorative focal point for the foreseeable future.
This dazzling ceramic display has become the perfect riposte to today’s vapid, tokenistic, ‘me, me, me’ mindset, typified by those fatuous feminist T-shirts which public figures must wear for fear of being labelled sexist.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has not yet found time to visit the poppies, but he has felt obliged to pose for the cameras in a T-shirt saying: ‘This is what a feminist looks like’, and also gormlessly chop carrots on a day-time TV cookery slot.
No one is obliging anyone to visit the Tower of London. And there is no snappy catchphrase attached to these poppies.
But their unspoken message hits you like a sledgehammer the moment you clap eyes on the vermilion tide: ‘This is what a lost generation looks like.’
What started out as an eccentric artistic exercise just three months ago, is now something truly historic
It was little more than a year ago that the ceramic artist, Paul Cummins, had the idea of crafting a clay poppy for every fallen soldier, planting the whole lot at the Tower of London and then selling them for charity.
He called it Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, words written on the will of a soldier from his native Derbyshire who died in Flanders. But, first, he had to convince the Tower.
Some public organisations would probably still be holding committee meetings one year later, chewing over the health and safety implications. But the Tower authorities — a purposeful mix of distinguished old soldiers and hard-headed tourism experts — quickly grasped the idea.
The award-winning theatrical designer, Tom Piper, was recruited to bring the vision to life. A factory was set up in Derby and 50 unemployed locals hired to make the poppies, while two specialist potteries, in Warwickshire and Stoke, were also invited to help.
Rebuffed in his attempts to raise any support from Government and the usual arts bodies (how silly they look now), Paul Cummins had to take out a £1 million high-interest loan just to bring his idea to life.
He has certainly suffered for his art. Early on, he lost a middle finger rolling out a new batch of poppies.
Neither he nor anyone else envisaged quite how this would turn out when the first poppy was planted last July by Yeoman Sergeant Crawford Butler.
It was little more than a year ago that the ceramic artist, Paul Cummins, had the idea of crafting a clay poppy for every fallen soldier
The number of spectators has now soared past that much-quoted original estimate of four million. Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which runs the Tower (without a bean from the taxpayer), has already spent £120,000 on stewards and safety hoardings to manage the thousands who keep pouring forth from Tower Hill Underground station.
But it is not just the crowds along the walls which have been remarkable. There is an equally impressive human story in the moat.
For this project has now attracted some 30,000 volunteers. That is almost half the number for the entire 2012 London Olympics. And they are vital because it has required a citizen army to plant nearly a million poppies in a matter of weeks. Another one will be needed in the weeks ahead to uproot them all and send the same poppies on their way to the people who have paid £25 for each one.
I turn up to find an afternoon shift of 200 volunteers putting on red bibs for a three-hour stint in a corner of the Eastern moat, the last area of grass still untouched.
Some are pensioners, some students. Ten chaps have taken a day off from the Food Standards Agency. Here, too, are half a dozen bikers in Hell’s Angels leather waistcoats.
They turn out to be members of the Royal British Legion Riders Branch and have done several shifts.
‘The hardest thing is getting the bits on the rods,’ explains former Private Claire Thompson, 41, from Uxbridge. ‘Last time, I had blisters for weeks!’
That sniffy Guardian critic who dismissed this project as an inward-looking ‘Ukip-style memorial’ really did get it wrong
For these poppies do not come ready-made. As every person who has bought one is about to discover, they actually come in six pieces — a hand-crafted, scarlet-glazed head (made of two folds of clay), a 440mm steel rod, two rubber washers and two plastic ‘spacers’ which protect the clay from the steel and hold the head in place.
The poppy must then be gently hammered in to the grass. When the display comes down, each one will be dismantled for safe delivery. The new owners must then reassemble them (an instruction manual is included with the certificate of authenticity).
‘It’s funny to think that just three months ago we were thinking about advertising this,’ says Colonel John Brown, the Deputy Governor of the Tower. The main man on the ground, he spent his military career in the Royal Logistic Corps, appropriately enough.
In between briefing the volunteers, he has to handle the growing numbers of VIPs wanting a tour of the site.
‘We’ve adopted what we call an “informal visit” strategy,’ he explains.
Staff are simply too busy to arrange VIP cordons and red carpets. Just this week, requests from two overseas royal families were politely turned down because there was no way of getting their motorcades through the crowds. Among those who has made her own way down here this afternoon is the actress Joan Collins.
I drop in at poppy-planting HQ, a set of windowless store rooms beneath Tower Bridge. There’s a large map of the world on the wall. New volunteers are asked to stick a red dot on their home town, and they come from every continent. Some are from Germany. Many are from the United States.
‘We had some American Vietnam veterans who were very moved by it all,’ says Col Brown. That sniffy Guardian critic who dismissed this project as an inward-looking ‘Ukip-style memorial’ really did get it wrong.
Elsewhere, the Historic Royal Palaces staff are arranging this evening’s Roll Call, another major operation in itself. Every day since this display began, a Beefeater and a bugler appear at dusk and march out to a little mound in the middle of the poppies. They escort a guest who will read out 180 names from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s register of the dead.
Anyone can propose a name online. But each one must be checked against the Commission’s database to ensure that they are bona fide and that they have not already been included.
Then an email is despatched to the person who sent in the nomination, alerting them to the date and time when the name will be read out.
Every night, entire families have been turning up to hear a great-grandfather or great-uncle being honoured. Earlier this week, one Roll Call included the entire list of war dead from Clare College, Cambridge. A century on, many are finding it a profoundly moving experience.
‘We get very emotional thank-you messages from all over the world,’ says Melanie McCarthy of the Tower’s IT department. ‘They all like to tell us the story of their loved one and how proud they are.’ Tomorrow night’s Roll Call, for example, will include names off the war memorials in the Yorkshire villages of Conisbrough and Denaby. Many proud villagers are making the long journey to London just to hear these gallant long-lost Yorkshire lads being acknowledged — and on Remembrance Sunday, too. They will remember it for the rest of their lives.
Any Allied soldier can be nominated, not just the Brits. Many of the names are from Canadian, Australian and Kiwi units. The Tower films every ceremony and puts it all on the website. The Roll Call lasts around 20 minutes but it feels longer as this remorseless litany of sacrifice goes on and on.
It’s only a tiny fraction, of course. If you actually tried to read out the name of every dead soldier from Britain alone and worked around the clock, you would still be going strong three months later.
It’s humbling for everyone. Dame Helen Mirren is no stranger to the big occasion. When she stood among the poppies to read the names a few weeks ago, even her crisp delivery faltered now and then.
Many passers-by have no idea that this beautiful, newly fabricated ‘ritual’ takes place every night. Some are soon in tears. At 4.55pm, the floodlights on the moat are dimmed and a spotlight picks out the little mound. The crowds, vast as ever, shuffle to a standstill. Not a single mobile phone goes off. Down in the moat, I bump in to the Constable of the Tower, General Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, who championed the poppy idea at the very start.
As usual, he and Lady Dannatt have brought a few special guests to watch the ceremony. This evening’s contingent include a group of badly wounded Afghanistan veterans and Victoria Maclennan, aged nine, from Fair Oak Junior School in Hampshire, who has asked to interview the man in charge of the Tower for her school magazine. They are all bowled over.
‘This means a lot, I can tell you, says Martyn Compton, 30, of East Sussex, a former Household Cavalry Lance Corporal who knows more than most about serving one’s country. He suffered 75 per cent burns and was shot twice in Afghanistan in 2006.
The arts establishment, which chucks millions at pointless tat providing it ticks the relevant politically correct boxes, failed to see the point of this. Shame on them all
Making the ceramic Tower of London poppies:
Making the ceramic poppies for display at Tower of London - YouTube
Lord Dannatt tells me that he can pinpoint the exact moment when this whole adventure suddenly took off. ‘It was October 16, as the Queen walked through the early poppies in the moat,’ he says. ‘Suddenly, that image went viral round the world. People understood why there were a specific number of poppies and that there was a finite opportunity to see them.
‘Four days later, every single poppy had been sold.’
Like the rest of the population, he is now kicking himself. ‘I did buy one at the start and meant to get some more,’ he laughs. ‘But when I got round to it, they’d all gone!’
Once tonight’s names have been read out, the bugler marches on to the mound and plays the Last Post.
There is a terrific flash of mobile phone cameras and polite applause at the end. Then the crowds shuffle on and thousands more come pouring out of the Tube station.
Quite apart from the growing debate about extending this display, there is another question: what next? There have already been several suggestions for 2018. But it won’t be like this. ‘
It’s been overwhelming — in a very nice way,’ says the artist, Paul Cummins. ‘But you won’t see me doing any more ceramic poppies in the moat.’
Having been down here several times, I am reminded of John F Kennedy’s old adage that ‘victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan’.
The organisers are too diplomatic to say so in public, but when all this started, they wondered if help might be forthcoming from the Government’s special £65 million pot for Great War commemorations. Nothing doing, said the officials.
Similarly, the arts establishment, which chucks millions at pointless tat providing it ticks the relevant politically correct boxes, failed to see the point of this. Shame on them all. Particularly as it’s been such an expensive business setting up a production line, a workforce, a call centre, a website and so on.
The primary purpose, of course, was to produce a work of art rather than conduct a fund-raising exercise. Yet the costs have been covered, the artists have waived any profits and at least 40 per cent of every poppy will be shared between six charities.
Now that the Chancellor has scrapped much of the VAT involved (George Osborne also invited Paul Cummins round to Downing Street this week for a congratulatory cup of tea), the final sum will be just short of £10 million, a magnificent achievement.
But the greater achievement is that we have reconnected with a generation we never knew, found a new arena for national thanksgiving and, along the way, learned something about ourselves.
As for any talk of a ‘Ukip-style memorial’? It only goes to show how little the Left understands the real world.
Read more: Tower of London poppies reconnect us to a generation of heroes we never knew | Daily Mail Online
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Quote: Originally Posted by Tecumsehsbones
Why DO the Left despise patriotism? Sneering Left-wing art critic brands the poppy tribute seen by millions at the Tower as a 'Ukip-type memorial'
Temporary war memorial Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at Tower of London has attracted thousands of visitors
Well, I favour the BNP-Lite policy of mandatory patriotism, suppression of freedom of speech, thought, and religion, and harsh punishment of anyone who doesn't drool with adoration of the Shiny Hat.
Installation will see 888,246 ceramic poppies filling Tower's moat to commemorate those who died in First World War
But Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones has trashed the 'toothless' memorial as 'fake', 'inward-looking' and 'a lie'
In a seething attack, the former Turner Prize judge suggests the moat should be filled with 'barbed wire and bones'
By Robert Hardman for the Daily Mail
30 October 2014
The work, created by Paul Cummins, is to simply express thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice - without political agenda
Why is it that the Left have such a loathing for home-grown patriotism while they are so keen to salute it elsewhere? Why is it still thought to be cool (after all these years) to have that clapped-out hero of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, on your wall or your T-shirt, while decrying ‘Thatcher the warmonger’ for liberating the Falklands?
Even among the centre Left, there is sometimes a sense that all this commemoration stuff is a bit phoney. Tony Blair saw nothing wrong with merging the 60th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day in 2005 into a single, non-specific event to save time and money. The veterans were appalled, yet the Prime Minister of the day could not understand why.
Back in the Seventies, the Left were urging us all to ‘move on’ and downgrade Armistice Day. In 1982, after the Falklands War, the BBC decided to switch conductors after musical director Mark Elder had called for the abolition of ‘jingoistic’ flag-waving at the Last Night of the Proms. Even today, there are strident voices insisting that the school curriculum should no longer teach 1918 as a ‘victory’.
And nothing gets this Leftie lot going quite like a poppy.
The sea of crimson poppies can be seen from The View From The Shard - a beacon of colour in the more grey London surroundings
Whether it’s the right-on crowd who insist on wearing white poppies (to honour pacifism) in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday or those, like Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who refuse to wear one at all (on grounds of ‘poppy fascism’), there will always be some people who want to be different.
No one should dispute their right to do so. Such freedoms of expression are why those wars were fought in the first place. Even the protester who burnt poppies in front of Royal British Legion fundraisers outside the Royal Albert Hall on Armistice Day 2010 — shouting ‘Burn in hell, British soldiers’ — was only fined £50 for threatening behaviour (he’d have been fined more if he’d parked on a double yellow line while doing so).
But that doesn’t mean we should let patronising side-swipes pass unchallenged.
So what if the sea of poppies at the Tower is a British commemoration? Every nation honours the dead in its own way. Think of the profoundly moving tradition which takes place every night of every year in Belgium.
Why is it that the Left have such a loathing for home-grown patriotism?
Except for the duration of the Second World War, the buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade have appeared each evening at the town’s Menin Gate. There, the traffic stops and the people of this proud town salute all the British who fell in Flanders. To date, I have never heard anyone condemn them as a bunch of Ukip-supporting simpletons. Maybe it’s only a matter of time.
The Tower of London project was dreamt up by ceramicist Paul Cummins only a year ago, as he pondered a fitting tribute for the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. His idea was to plant a ceramic poppy for every British and colonial serviceman who died in the Great War, then sell them to raise funds for charities linked to the Armed Forces. The trustees of Historic Royal Palaces, which runs the Tower of London, quickly embraced the idea.
More than that, the Tower authorities have created a ritual whereby, every night, the names of dead soldiers are recited from a lectern overlooking the poppies. Anyone can nominate a loved one.
The whole project is an idea which so impressed the Queen that she asked for a guided tour. And despite Jonathan Jones’s assertion that it is a nationalistic, Brits-only affair, it has attracted enormous international attention.
The man from the Guardian had not even planned to see it. ‘I accidentally got swept into a tide of humanity at the weekend, or to put it another way, couldn’t move for crowds,’ he wrote. ‘What was going on? Why were so many people choking the streets of the City of London, where shops are closed on Saturdays?’ How frightful for the poor chap.
Well, I just so happened to be down there myself during this same weekend. I saw the poppies back in the summer and wanted to bring my children before the whole thing disappears in a fortnight. And I could think of no better way to impress upon them the enormity of the Great War than to show them this crimson moat and explain that every single one of the 888,246 poppies equals a real person who lived and died for this country.
It is an image which will be imprinted on countless young minds for many years to come. Yet after Armistice Day on November 11, the poppies will be uprooted, cleaned and dispatched to the people who have paid £25 for each one. Within weeks, this extraordinary display will be gone, unlike Damien Hirst’s pickled shark and Tracey Emin’s unmade bed, which will for better or worse live on to delight future generations.
Which, though, will most people remember 100 years from now?
Her Majesty looked contemplative as she toured the poppies last month. The poppies will be sold to raise money for military charities
In stirring scenes, Joey, the star of War Horse, also visited the poppies - one of several high profile visitors to the installation
Visitors have been taking photos in their thousands to document the snippet of history now laid out in central London
Read more: Jonathan Jones brands the Tower of London poppy tribute as a 'Ukip-type memorial' | Daily Mail Online
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Last edited by Blackleaf; Nov 8th, 2014 at 08:17 AM..