My husband and I got to participate in a very special volunteer opportunity last week. You may or may not be familiar with the art installation that’s going on at the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. When it’s finished on November 11, the moat will look like it’s filled with blood.

According to the Tower website, the exhibit marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and was created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper. The heart of the installation is the 888,246 ceramic poppies that are progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat, and each one represents a British life that was lost.


Aerial view of the Tower (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Police).

“The remembrance poppy has been used since 1921 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. Inspired by the World War I poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, they were first used by the American Legion to commemorate American soldiers who died in that war (1914–1918).

“They were then adopted by military veterans’ groups in parts of the former British Empire: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Today, they are mainly used in the UK and Canada to commemorate their servicemen and women who have been killed in all conflicts since 1914. There, small artificial poppies are often worn on clothing for a few weeks until Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (11 November). Poppy wreaths are also often laid at war memorials.” (Wikipedia)

A fellow embassy employee thought the Tower was kind of an odd place for the installation since it had a rather violent history as well. But I found this photo the other day in a BBC article that explained its relevance. The image is of new recruits being sworn in to join the Royal Fusiliers in the very same moat at the Tower of London. In 1914 the moat was used to swear in more than 1,600 soldiers.

Recruits being sworng in at the Tower moat.

Recruits being sworn in at the Tower moat.


Poppies with the Tower Bridge in the background.


Part of the installation that “spills” out of the window.


Close up.

The embassy was able to bring 45 people (and had a waiting list) to the Tower for a three-hour shift to help plant poppies in the moat. Both my husband and I have had family members in the military and held them in our hearts as we spent several hours last Wednesday assembling the flowers and their metal stems and hammering them into the ground.

Despite the somber theme, the volunteers were all in good spirits and seemed more than happy to be contributing to such a great project. When the exhibit is done, the poppies on display will be sold for £25 each (and are already sold out!). The proceeds will be going to several charities.


Me laying out poppies.


Beautiful juxtaposition of ceramic poppies and Queen Anne’s lace.