November 11, 2014

Remembrance Sunday in London

A hop across the channel... that is all it takes. Nevertheless it took us three years to come to London. What better weekend to choose than Remembrance Sunday?

The city was in pre-festive season mode, yet you could feel the touch of sobriety and solidarity, especially since this year marks the centenary of WWI.

Big and small were wearing their poppies, even the cabs, cars and bikes were decorated with large plastic versions on their front bumper, wraths were laid down throughout town in places of remembrance and we came across many a ceremony during our exploration of the London sights.

We were able to watch the Remembrance service at Wellington Arch from our hotel, and upon venturing outside, we each bought a poppy and I explained the history and its symbolism to my kids who are, after all, part British.

Nothing, however, prepared us for the display of respect and emotions that we encountered at the Tower of London where we caught a glimpse of the dramatic display of poppies. The installation by Paul Cummins, entitled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" has seen 8,000 volunteers place hundreds of thousands of ceramic poppies into the dry moat of the Tower of London.

Each poppy – 888'246 in total – represents a British or Colonial military fatality during the war, which saw around 17 million people lose their lives.

We were overwhelmed by the Field of Remembrance, over 350 plots for regimental and other associations laid out in the area between Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, filled with First World War Centenary Remembrance Crosses where ex-Service men and women, as well as members of the public, could plant a cross in memory of their fallen comrades and loved ones.

The Remembrance Poppy does not attempt to glorify or romanticise conflict, but instead, at least once a year, obliges us to face and think about the consequences of war, past, present and future.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 

John McCrae

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