11 Nov 2014

‘Why I bought a Tower of London poppy’

On the final day of the poppy art installation at the Tower of London, which has been seen by millions, people explain what the poppies mean to them – and why they bought one.

“I’m an ex-serviceman, and I think that those lads did then, and what they are still doing now, deserves recognition.”

Terry Reynolds, 68, was in the army for 25 years, although he says he did not see much action. And he hasn’t just bought one of the ceramic poppies currently blooming in the moat of the Tower of London – he’s bought two.

“I intended to buy one but when I thought one might look pretty silly,” he said. “They are sold out now but if they weren’t I would urge people to buy them – I hope it wakes people up to what went on and what’s been laid down for them.”

The display of flowers at the tower marks the centenary of the outbreak of world war one. It pays tribute to the sacrifice of the 888,246 British and colonial soldiers who died in the conflict – a poppy for every life – and has been seen by millions. But after 11 November, the art installation will be dismantled.

However, the flowers have pollinated: available to buy for £25, every single one has now been snapped up and will be “replanted” in houses around the country. Mr Reynolds, who has not managed to see the installation in person, plans to display his poppy in a vase underneath a poster.

The net proceeds from the poppies will be shared among service charities, including the British Legion – something Kevin Daly, 47, thinks is significant.

“I went online as soon as I heard you could buy one, I thought there would be a huge rush,” he said. “I think it’s important to raise money for the Royal British Legion and help wounded soldiers and their families. All of my family are Irish, and the remembrance service on Sunday was quite poignant to me because of the Irish connection for the first time [the Irish ambassador took part in the wreath-laying ceremony in London for the first time since 1946].”

Mr Daly went to visit the tower to see the poppies with some friends and their children.

“It’s important for them to hear about it,” he said. “It puts it into perspective in a lot of ways. The way in which the whole thing has been put together, flowing, I think it makes a political statement about the war. It’s very moving. No war is worth the bloodshed and loss of human life. It brings home to me the ordinary man in the street has to lay down his life on the whim of those who are in power.”

Fay Barrett, 67, also bought a poppy. She says showing people the poppy means the message of remembrance will live on – in a more enduring way than the more delicate sugarcraft poppies she has produced (see picture below).

“For me it is so significant, and it has become more so as Armistice Day came along,” she said. “Everyone who comes to my house now will see it and I feel privileged in a way – people will know instantly, and the fact it is going to be weathered, not pristine, helps.

“I had a relative who was killed in the first world war but he was fairly distant – my grandfather’s brother. So I don’t feel a direct connection with the European wars – but still, I’m British, I feel it.”

For other people who have bought a flower, like Alma Tunney, it is more personal – and also feels more recent. Her great grandfather Charles Andrew Caren died in world war one, in 1915, when he was 28. He is listed on the memorial at Vimy, but the family only found out about the connection in 2013.

“We’re all in Liverpool, so we hadn’t known he was Canadian,” she said. “For us this surfaced last year. I may not have met him, but he was part of my past and the reason for my being here.

“When I first found out about the tower poppies being sold, yes, I thought it would be great to have a poppy in memory of my great granddad.”