We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their lives for us, loved, too the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings –
But we, how shall we turn to little things,
And listen to the birds and wind and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
(WW Gibson, The Watsonian, July 1919)

The poppies at the Tower of London, marking the centenary of the start of World War 1.  We were in London at the weekend and by chance rather than design were staying very near the Tower.  As a result we were able to visit late in the evening and then early next morning when the pressure of the crowd was slightly less.  Even so, we were part of a huge, silent mass of people. 

The installation, 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by ceramic artist Paul Cummins consists of 888, 246 ceramic poppies, one for every British or colonial death during the war.  After Armistice Day the installation will be dismantled and the individual poppies sent to those who have bought them, the proceeds going to six service charities.  

Returning to Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle.

The poem at the head of this post is by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, one of a group of poets known as 'the war poets' and including well-known names such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. It was published in the annual magazine of my children's school, George Watson's College, in 1919.  The school has just brought out a history of the school during World War 1, including accounts of war service and the tragic loss of young life.  In all 3102 members of the school community served in the forces - former pupils and current and former staff - with 605 losing their lives.  Of this lost generation, I only have space to mention two.

William Gordon "Seggie" Brown was a brilliant mathematician, who enlisted as a private rather than going to university.  He somehow continued with his studies in the trenches, providing the mathematical theory of a phenomenon in optics.  "It was said at the time that only two other people had achieved so much as undergraduates: Clerk-Maxwell and Kelvin. Seggie also left behind him other papers, some of which were placed in 1922 before the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  These dealt with tubes of electrical force in a four-dimensional space.  Seggie had arrived independently at the same conclusions regarding relativity as had Albert Einstein." [Watson's At War 1914-1918]  Seggie was killed in 1916 in the battle of the Somme, aged 20. 

Cecil Frederick Coles was a gifted musician who entered Edinburgh University to study music at the age of 16.  At the age of 23 he was appointed assistant conductor of Stuttgart Royal Opera.  During the war he was a stretcher-bearer.  He continued to compose in the trenches, sending shrapnel-torn manuscripts to Gustav Holst with whom he had a close friendship.  "Cecil was the musician of a doomed generation. His Behind the Lines, composed in 1918 amidst the thunder of the guns, has strength, depth and beauty, the last movement, Cortege, being the most powerful and haunting." [Watson's at War 1914-1918].  He was killed by a sniper in 1918, having volunteered to bring in wounded comrades following an attack.


  1. My wife and I just saw this on our national news this evening. It is such a great way to commemorate those who lost their lives. The poppy is a neat design. It is a beautiful sight even if I only see it in photos and tv broadcast.

  2. That is such an impressive installation - very moving.

  3. My whole family looked at these wonderful pictures. Really something to see and something to commemorate. Thank you for sharing these.

  4. I've seen photos of the poppies at the Tower of London on other blogs, but I really like your night shots of it. What luck to be in town (and close by) and able to see this historic display.

  5. I have seen the poppies at the Tower on the news and think you were so fortunate to see it in real life. Your pics are wonderful!
    A patch of those cauliflower would be so beautiful!

  6. That is such an amazing set of stories of the creative genius soldiers who could not hold back in their studies. The writing of music is a miracle in itself. I am glad I could return to read the amended blog. I sometimes accidentally post my blog and then keep on working on it and update. I am sure anyone who catches it in them middle of the making as I don't have any conclusions done then. We are having severe cold right now and I bet you are having some of it too.

  7. I am speechless. Very moving memorial.

  8. Very touching memorial, Linda! Thank you so much for your visit and kind comment on my blog. You are welcome anytime! Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

  9. Beautiful. I especially like the poem, and the accounts of the two creative men. I've been thinking of rereading Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. It captures the heartbreak of that lost generation so well.

  10. I've seen this display in several photoblogs in the last few weeks... it's such a beautiful, powerful, and poignant concept.

  11. The display is beautiful and very amazing, and the poem is very touching. Thanks also for sharing about the two men. It's good to remember those who died in their youth for their country. World War 1 was long enough ago that I don't think of it often; however, my family does watch the 1941 film Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper as the American war hero every New Year's Eve.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts