Poppy Dismantling

Pix at her Tiny Ten wrote yesterday of snow. In Lndon, I haven’t got the heating on yet, apart from the heated towel rail in the bathroom that is. It has been unseasonably mild. I went to dinner tonight at Octavia’s. Her mother, Rae (query spelling), is with her, a hale nonagenarian. While Octavia made a ‘phone call, Rae and I guzzled the good red wine. On the way home a short time ago, I actually felt very warm. I don’t think that was entirely due to the wine. Although this mildness, and the floods elsewhere in Europe, are worrying indications of climate crisis – and if I lived in one of those parts of Britain where floods have become the norm over the last few years, I imagine I would now be on Prozac – I admit I was grateful for the unseasonal warmth today. I spent the afternoon in the moat at the Tower of London as part of the disassembly team of volunteers taking the poppy display apart. An email yesterday warned us to expect Glastonbury conditions. The shift before us gleefully warned us of a mud bath. I can only think they don’t walk on unpaved paths very often.

Yes it was muddy, but nothing more than you’d encounter on an average country walk at this time of year, and certainly nothing to compare with the trenches and battlefields of the First World War which these poppies remember. But the gloves we were lent were ghastly: wet, muddy and full of holes. On a cold day we would have left with frozen, chapped fingers. Today they were merely muddy and damp. I kept my badge on in the hope that others on the bus home would look charitably on my muddy boots and dirty hands. I don’t think anyone noticed. But when I went into M&S on the way home, Win spotted my badge and exclaimed. Unlike the soldiers at the front, I was able to discard my boots and leave the mud to dry; throw my trousers into the washing machine; stand under a hot shower and wash the mud from my fingernails. And then go and enjoy a good dinner with Octavia and Rae. As we dismantled, packed and bundled, people took photographs. Being part of the poppies in the moat has become quite important. Some people have planted them and are now removing them. That urge, or instinct, to join in, to share this extraordinary experience probably helps us better to understand the enthusiasm of so many young men to sign up and become part of the First World War. But we are more fortunate than they were. We left with damp hands and muddy boots. Our lives did not end because we obeyed an impulse to be part of something. I am glad the poppies are leaving the moat. In the last weeks they have become the story. But the story is not about a sea of ceramic poppies encircling the Tower of London, it is about a generation slaughtered on the battlefields for reasons no one is quite sure about. Lest we forget.

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23 thoughts on “Poppy Dismantling

  1. So many lives lost or destroyed on the battlefield. Such a shame we haven’t learned the lesson yet.

    And the weather has been mild and we don’t have the heat on yet either. Last night was rather warm, or at least on my way home from the pub it seemed warm. maybe it was the gin and tonic. Probably both, though.

    • I am hoping the photograph ice exhibition in St James’ Park is still there. I saw bits of it, but didn’t get to walk round it slowly. Celia did and bought the book.

      So mild here again today. I have opened my windows and still feel snugly warm.

  2. We made sure to see the installation at the beginning and the end. I think the poppies did strike a cord with folks especially at the end because of the number so hopefully the remembrance will be of the right kind. It will be hard to ‘top’ it for the other commemorations coming along. I hope you took ours apart. It would be nice to think of a friend doing that for us!

    • I agree they struck a chord, but in these last weeks I have felt that some of the people coming to see them came because it was so much in the news, not because they wanted to honour the fallen.
      We shall never know if I picked ‘your’ poppy. Once home I found emails to tell me the poppies I have ordered were being picked. Some of the pickers had already received theirs. Apparently me picker last week stole a poppy and posted it on Facebook. She is to receive a visit from the Met.

  3. Ray is the way she spells it. Her full name is Rachel.
    I like your comparisons between the volunteers on poppy duty and the volunteers in the First World War.

    • Thanks for the clarification. I knew her name was Rachel, but I didn’t know how she spelled Rachel either! Having a name myself which has a variety of spellings, I am a bit conscious of the possibilities of getting it wrong.

  4. Do I understand that if you bought a poppy for the moat it will now be sent to you? That’s good. I was wondering what would happen to them.So sorry to have missed the display by a few days.

    • All the poppies in the moat were put up for sale. Part of the proceeds will go to cahrities suporting ex servicemen and women.
      It has been very special.
      When are you over?

  5. I think the poppy tradition is very powerful Isobel. Ashamed to say I didn’t know of it until I read it here. I do have a memory of my Mom and Dad coming home from work with a poppy pinned on their outfit. It might be that it just left my memory from being away from the city for so long.

    • I get the impression that in the US it is mainly families with military connections who wear poppies. Is that correct?

      Here it is people of all ages and walks of life. It is the exception for someone not to waer a poppy from mid-October. Though so many of us lose our paper poppies, it is not unusual to see someone just wearing a pin in their coat, a signal that there was a poppy there earlier in the day. When I was at primary school, poppies would be sold to us in the classroom. We twisted the wires through our jumpers. Wires that five-year-olds would not allowed near nowadays. We all knew the poppies had been made by men who had been injured and disabled in wars. I am not sure that is still the case today, and there is far more poppy merchandise than before. I have two enamel pins, a nice brooch, an umbrella, a wristband, and I have seen all sorts of things for sale, including shoe horns, this year.

  6. Thank you for dismantling. I think that regardless of people’s motives for going to the Tower the impact of the numbers of poppies brought home the scale of the slaughter, and meant people did pause and think. My cousin, and friends that I went with, commented on how quiet and respectful the crowds were.

    • I agree with you. Now the challenge is to find ways that keep us aware, keep us questioning, and thinking abiut how we can avoid such slaughter happening again.

    • What are they going to do in 2018 to mark the anniversary of the end of the First World War? I am very curious to know.
      I reckon Paul Cummins will get a gong in the nEw Year honours. OBE? MBE? Shall we start a book?

  7. A lovely piece, Isobel. I have to agree with “TBM”. Maybe the poppies will help to change that. Can’t believe a picker actually stole one. How low can one stoop?

    • You know Lyn, I have been thinking about this. It is the sort of story that should be all over The Mail. So why isn’t it?
      I wonder if every group is told this story to discourage anyone tempted to steal a poppy while on the removal shift.
      Glad you liked the rest.

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