Tomorrow, November 11, is Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in many other countries. In the United States, this is about all veterans and active duty military, whereas in other countries, it’s a memorial for those military members who died in war. No matter where you are on November 11, thank a veteran or active duty service member for their service. I’m pretty sure they don’t suffer from receiving too much gratitude from those they serve.
This observance began after World War I and is held on the day the armistice to end hostilities between the Allied Powers and Germany was signed, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The First World War, also known as the Great War, has always been my favorite war to study, so be prepared for more future posts on this topic.
But for today, I want to talk about a commemoration that is taking place because 2014 is the centenary, or 100th anniversary, of the beginning of World War I. There is a temporary art installation in the moat of the Tower of London that is a visual representation of British and Commonwealth war dead. The poppy has long been the symbol of remembrance for the Great War, and artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper have created Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red, placing 888,246 ceramic poppies in the Tower moat, one for each of the dead in a war that lasted a little more than four years. Yes, that number is really 888,246. The ceramic poppies are for sale to the public for £25.00, with a percentage of monies received being split between six service charities.
I think this installation is brilliant because that number – 888,246 – is so big that it’s incomprehensible to most of us. Seeing that many bright red ceramic poppies in one place causes us to see each poppy as individual. Each of those poppies represents a person with a life story.
Each of those 888,246 had a life before the war, joined the war effort for their own reasons, forged relationships with their fellow soldiers, and had their own opinions about the war and how the war experiences were shaping and revealing the participants. Each of those 888,246 individuals were either young or old, rural or urban, alone or from a large family, married or single, possibly parents. And each of those poppies represents the story of one person’s death. Did that person die instantly or linger in pain? Did they die alone or have someone to hold their hand? Did they have family and friends to mourn them? 888,246 is not just a number.
So this Veterans Day, please remember that this “holiday” is not about buying sale furniture. Remember not only these 888,246, but also all of the individuals with life stories from other countries and other wars. That is a number that is truly incomprehensible.