Over the past few months thousands of volunteers have ‘planted’ a poppy to represent the life of a soldier from the British Forces that was lost during WWI. The last poppy, of the total 888,246, will be planted tomorrow on Armistice Day. And by tomorrow it is estimated that 4 million people will have visited the Tower of London to see this beautiful commemoration unfold.
Tom Piper, the stage designer who helped put this installation together, said he wanted it to have a “fluid and organic feel to it, you could see it as blood, water or life force”, and I think he has achieved that as the moat has slowly been filled to capacity with the ceramic poppies. Even in August, when we last saw it, you really got the feeling that the ‘blood’ was slowly filling up the moat as it poured out of the Tower itself.
As I have watched the moat fill up, both online and in person, and have thought about the numbers of lives that it represents it has me thinking about the rest of the lives affected by World War I. What do those numbers look like?
The numbers vary some from source to source as historians debate these statistics but no matter which source we look at the numbers are still staggering…
- 65 million men in all fought in World War I, from 40 countries and dozens of colonies.
- 8 million soldiers died- that was 6,000 deaths for every day of the war.
- 6.6 million civilians died during the war.
And in addition to all those that had died, another 21.2 million were wounded. This was the first war in history that battle wounds accounted for more deaths than disease. *
The poppies at the Tower of London, although so numerous they have now filled the entire moat, are only a fraction of those that lost their lives during this, the ‘war to end all wars‘.
Many people are now expressing their desire that the poppies remain at the Tower longer in order to extend the installation so more people to come and view it. Personally I don’t think it should be extended. The artist, Paul Cummins, has said, “the idea was it will only be there for a finite time like we are”, and I agree with him. By extending the installation it will lose a key part of its impact- its transience. The poppies represent the lives of 888,246 soldiers whose families would have wanted more time with their loved one, just like the public wants more time with the poppies, but those families weren’t given that opportunity. I think that part of their story will be diminished if the poppies remain longer. They have been a beautiful and poignant reminder to all that have seen them about how much was lost, but I think it is now time for them to be distributed to the thousands of people who have purchased them to support six charities in the UK.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the installation should be extended? Have you had the opportunity to visit it?
* Source: World War I by the Numbers