The Last Post
The bugler stands in silent remembrance on the Tower Of London Gatehouse. We remember, we thank, we grieve, we wish it had been the War To End All Wars. We regret. We must change.
ShareMondays2018 – The Deep Shadows
I went to the Tower Of London last Wednesday, to witness the commemorative sound and light display, Beyond The Deepening Shadows: The Tower Remembers by Designer Tom Piper and Sound Artist Mira Calix. Yeoman Warders, members of the armed forces and a team of volunteers proceeded to light the installation, gradually creating a circle of light, radiating out from the Tower as a symbol of remembrance.
It was so evocative, eerily beautiful and a thought provoking tribute to those who fought and died during the First World War. With an estimated 40,000 visitors watching on Wednesday evening, I felt lucky to have a view and was delighted to be able capture some images, so that I could portray the emotional impact that this event has had on me.
As the Yeoman Warders directed the many volunteers to their areas, I couldn’t help but think of prisoners of war, paraded in line, heads hung low, their steps measured and cautious. Under spotlight and the wavering flames of the torches, shadows appeared on the Tower wall. They could have been the shadows of lost soldiers. Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum est came straight to mind:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
I felt like I was looking down into those dreadful trenches, transported into the past and standing witness to the extraordinary sacrifice of so many. The music was hauntingly beautiful, an extra dimension to this evolving installation. You can download it free HERE to hear the words of war poet Mary Borden’s Sonnets to a Soldier in this specially commissioned piece of choral music.
Set against the backdrop of the Tower with it’s own history as a palace, a fortress, a prison, a museum, with the walls covered in so much of the symbolism associated with wartime, this was a stark reminder of the tragedy of war. I want to say a personal thank you to the Historic Royal Palaces, the Tower Of London and all those involved in the production from it’s conception through to the final note, the extinguishing of the last flame. I was moved to tears.
The Last Post is a mass participation project that has seen communities across the UK playing the Last Post on a variety of different instruments to remember lives of World War One. In Woking, our event was organised by Andy Mabbutt from The Phoenix Cultural Centre and hosted by Eddie Jones at The Trench Experience shop and Upcycling Centre.
The Trench Experience shop was the ideal setting for our event. The Charity was founded by Eddie Jones in 2005 and has just started work on a permanent base for the educational project, on land beside Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. The site will be developed in real-time to the events of the First World War, leading up to a Victory Celebration in 2018. The charity has chosen The Artists Rifle Regiment to illustrate trench conditions. The Artists fought as a battalion and were in the thick of the fighting with the Royal Naval Division at Passchendaele and Ypres. I’m really excited about this open-air, living history museum!
Cllr Tony Branagan, the Mayor of Woking, opened the event and welcomed us all. We honoured the memory of the Artist’s Rifles with prose and poetry from Greg Freeman, of the Woking Writers Circle, and also from me. Wilfred Owen is one of the best known members of the Artist’s Rifles and his poetry was a huge inspiration to me from my school days. I felt it was fitting to read a number of his poems including, Beauty and Anthem For Doomed Youth, two of my favourites and incredibly moving pieces. I also read my recently penned homage to Blood Swept Lands.
Vic Cracknell took us on a journey through the music of the era which brought back memories for many of us, young and old. My Great Aunt Jo was always singing with us when we were children and I was probably one of the most vocal members of the audience during the sing-a-long when Vic launched into She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain! Voices rose all around the shop for It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles. One of the most moving moments of the event came as Vic read an actual letter from the Grandfather he never met, back home to his family about having been wounded in action and losing an arm. It was full of reassurance to loved ones and gratitude for all the help he was receiving. Such an upbeat letter considering such dire circumstances!
A great achievement bringing several of Woking’s community groups together to put on such a successful and moving event!
This extraordinary installation at The Tower of London was created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper. 888,246 ceramic poppies have progressively filled the Tower’s famous moat over the course of Summer and Autumn. Each poppy represents a British military fatality during the First World War. To the crowds who have flocked to the Tower, from all over the world, each poppy represents so much more; the lives lost on all sides of all the wars that have followed, whether combatant or not. Inspired by the installation and with excerpts from The Blood Swept Lands by Unknown Soldier; Beauty, Asleep and Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, I have written this poem of remembrance, accompanied by photos from around the Tower and views of the installation from The Shard.
Through blood swept lands
And seas of red
I saw him stumbling.
Bent double with age,
The old soldier
Treads softly through
This field of mud
To place his marker.
His hanging face, lost
In some smothering dream
Of another field,
Where he once marched
Through sludge and filth,
Deaf to the shouts
Of those he left for dead
In a war that never
Should have been
Had lessons been learned.
His marker for the
Father he never met,
The friends he left behind,
The son who died too
Far from his fathers arms,
The grandsons who now
March through desert sands
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags.
Their mother cries
“Come home boys, come home”.
His tears are lost
In the falling rain.
Crowds watch on as
The lives long lost
Seep from the Tower Walls.
Hands reach in, again and again
To plant another fallen angel.
Here lie the flowers of our people
Filling the ancient moat
Each a boy who fell back
To fill some forgotten trench
With their aborted lives.
Regard this beauty,
So fair and elegant
That pleases and delights.
In these flowers we see hope.
All stand in strength to
Remember the glorious dead.
One hundred years since
That war to end all wars,
Yet thousands more have
Killed and died and bled
For naught but the ancient lie,
The struggle over territory
To seize a scrap of this land
That belongs to no one, and everyone.
In time when these blooms are gone
And verdant grass heals
The tortured,trampled land,
What will remain in the minds of man?
And later on will we hear
Of some canker that worked
Itself into the misted memories
Of those crimson flowers?
And laid vile, incurable sores
On the innocent minds of our children,
Ardent for some desperate glory.
Who knows, who hopes, who troubles?
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