Stuart Pearcey
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Words and Spaces Ltd
Fri,24th October, 2014

The ceramic poppy installation at the Tower of London shows, probably better than at any time since the event 100 years ago, the scale of the slaughter in the First World War. It is so big that the detail can barely be seen, especially because visitors are held at a respectful distance.

But still they come, visitors in their tens or even hundreds of thousands, to stand two or three deep beside the railings. They look down into the Tower's moat where each of 888,246 poppies represents a life lost by someone from Britain or the Commonwealth during the conflict. The poppies spill over the Tower's walls and splash onto the ground into the distance and out of sight, offering a feel for a waste of life of such magnitude that it is hard to take in.

That's what makes this picture, by Phil Guest via Flickr Creative Commons, so important. It reaches out to examine the detail of the poppies, allowing us to pick out individuals from the overwhelming crowd that lies before us. To imagine individual faces; faces of young men who went off to France and Belgium thinking it would be 'over by Christmas'. For them, it might well have been, for entirely the wrong reason.

And that's why I'm sad that the memorial tells only part the story. Life in the trenches was life in a mirror. The same death and destruction, fear and terror were happening at the other side of the muddy wilderness called no man's land; being experienced by other equally young and frightened men. And for me, for all its scale and the unarguably brilliant vision of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, that means the story is incomplete. It would have been better to make poppies without number rather than the 'false' 888,246. That would have been a still better memorial.

The number of casualties in the four years of the conflict was more than 30 million; people killed, maimed and mentally scarred by the appalling mix of modern weaponry with old-fashioned methods of warfare. We should continue to make the Remembrance Sunday promise to all of them, regardless of colour, creed or country of birth. "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."

Cummins' art installation was inspired by a line in the will of a solider from Derbyshire who wrote: "Bloodswept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread..."

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