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'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red'

In collaboration with Derbyshire ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, the Tower of London’s installation of thousands of ceramic poppies was unveiled on 5th August, one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.

Seas of Red news Aug14[1]

The poppies create a display to inspire personal reflection and be a powerful visual commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Entitled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, the installation will grow throughout the summer until the moat is filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British or Colonial military fatality during the war.

The installation is the creation of the Derbyshire ceramic artist Paul Cummins, inspired by a line in the will of a Derbyshire man who joined up in the earliest days of the war and died in Flanders.

“I don’t know his name or where he was buried or anything about him,” Cummins, who found the will among old records in Chesterfield, said. “But this line he wrote, when everyone he knew was dead and everywhere around him was covered in blood, jumped out at me: ‘The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.’ I believe he meant the angels to refer to his children.”

Soldiers were encouraged to make simple wills, stored in their pocket books – often with moving last letters to their families – so they could be retrieved with their bodies if the worst happened.

Cummins, who is dyslexic, was moved by the shaky phonetic spelling and poor grammar in many of the wills composed by men who were barely literate – although the unknown soldier who inspired his art work wrote well, suggesting that he was a better off farmer or landowner.

The dead soldier – who never signed the will, which Cummins believes means his widow may never have got what little he left, and may even have lost custody of her children – will be among those commemorated in the sea of red ceramic poppies, one for every death among the British and Commonwealth forces between 1914 and 1921. The dates underline the fact that the deaths did not end with the armistice in November 1918. 

Mr Cummins and a team of 35 artists have been working to create the poppies - which vary from 1ft to 2ft in height - in a studio in Derby. Stage designer Tom Piper, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, then collaborated with the artist to create the moving installation.

During the First World War, the Tower’s moat was used to swear in over 1,600 men who had enlisted by the end of August 1914 at the recruitment station in the City to form the 10th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – the so called ‘stock brokers battalion’ who fought for the duration of the war.

The poppies will encircle the Tower, creating not only a spectacular display, but also an inspiring setting for learning activities, as well as providing a location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation reflects the magnitude of such an important centenary, creating a powerful visual commemoration.

Throughout the installation period at twilight, the names of 180 serving military killed during the First World War will be read out in a Roll of Honour. This will be followed by the ‘Last Post’ bugle call played by a single bugler.

The last poppy will symbolically be planted on 11 November 2014.

Members of the public can nominate a name for the roll of honour using a weekly first come nomination system.
Members of the public can buy one of the poppies for £25 from the Tower of London website. 10 per cent of the price and all net proceeds will go to six service charities.

For more information, see:


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