Tower crowds join remembrance event

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Published: Sunday 9th November 2014 by The News Editor

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There was barely a murmur outside the Tower of London, not even a whisper of a breeze among the poppies filling the moat, as the crowds bowed their heads as one to remember the country’s fallen.

Thousands of people visited the historic royal palace on Remembrance Sunday to pay their respects to those who gave their lives defending their country, drawn by the poignant artwork that now dominates the scene.

By Tuesday – Armistice Day – some 888,246 ceramic poppies of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red artwork will have been planted, one for each British fatality in the First World War.

Among the crowds were five young men who have made their own sacrifices for their country, medals pinned to their chests bearing testimony to the service they have seen.

Tony Davies, a Warrant Officer Class 2, and Sergeant Brian “Smudge” Smith, both of the Royal Logistics Corp, laughed and joked as they waited for the chimes of 11am, along with retired comrade Matt Pope, a lance corporal, and friends Ross Harrison and Bradley White, who were both privates in the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian regiment.

Mr White, 28, from Essex, joined the Army at 16 and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan in 2007 he was shot in the left leg during an ambush, destroying his calf muscle. He left the Army soon after.

He said: “It is the first time I have come to London for Remembrance Day, so it is poignant to remember all those who died serving their country.

“I saw the poppies a few weeks ago. Seeing it all finished now just shows the scale of the sacrifice.

“It is quite emotional when you look at the sheer scale of it. When we were out in Afghanistan we lost nine soldiers, and numerous more since. So, it does bring back poignant memories from when we were out there.”

As the bells rang out at 11am, the hordes of people around the Tower of London fell silent and still.

In the following minutes they reflected and remembered, pride and sorrow mixed together in a jumble of emotion.

A ripple of applause ended the silence and then the five friends did what soldiers do best – they uncorked a bottle of vintage port and passed it between them to toast their fallen.

“It’s the blood of the soldiers,” Smudge explained.

“This is for nine heroes,” Mr Harrison said, “all men who died from the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian regiment in 2007.

“Chris Gray, Darren Bonner, George Davey, Captain David Hicks, MC, Robert Foster, John Thrumble, Aaron McClure, Tony Rawson and Alex Hawkins.”

Mr Davies, who has been in the Army for 20 years, added: “We just want to pay our respects. Seeing this makes me feel very proud.”

Many came to the poppy memorial to be with others at a time of such reflection.

Minouche Daniels, 54, who is originally from Lebanon but lives in London, said: “It is absolutely amazing that a small idea becomes such a huge thing and it relates so much to something in history.

“It is just an incredible event and seeing all the people coming here for the same reason, it is great to be part of it.

“Seeing it makes me wish that there weren’t wars in the world. Coming from Lebanon I have a different perspective to all of it. I still wish that there weren’t deaths due to war.”

Anne Leach, 51, a teacher from Holloway in north London, visited the installation with her 93-year-old father Russell.

Mr Leach helped build the Mulberry Harbour, a temporary construction used by the Allies to bring cargo ashore during the Normandy landings in the Second World War.

He said: “Seeing it (the poppies artwork) makes me feel sad. One wonders what it was all for. I think it is more questions than answers, really.”

His daughter felt the installation was a reminder that the sacrifices had not just been by members of the Armed Forces.

Ms Leach said: “These were people who never meant to go to war, they never signed up for it.

“I think it is a really fitting memorial to the ordinary people who weren’t soldiers and were called up.

“That is what has changed. Remembrance Day is often seen as a memorial for soldiers who have been killed in all wars, which is very fitting of course, but in fact when it started it was for people who were never meant to go.

“Every one of these poppies is a family that lost somebody who wasn’t necessarily a soldier.”

Kate Adams, 68, from Biddulph in Staffordshire, whose son was in the RAF, summed it up.

She said: “I came simply to remember those who have died and all those who fought in the wars.

“We have a lot to be thankful for – our freedom.”

Volunteers will start dismantling the poppies artwork on November 12, the day after Armistice Day.

The Wave section will remain until the end of the month and the Wave and the Weeping Window will go on a tour of sites across the UK until 2018 to allow as many people as possible to see them.

They will eventually go on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum.

Published: Sunday 9th November 2014 by The News Editor

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