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From Flanders Fields to the Tower of London – Poppies as a Modern Symbol for Fallen Soldiers

By peter

Poppies in the moat – Tower of London

Poppies in the moat – Tower of London

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Photo © Peter ,
licensed for reuse

Today, Veteran’s Day, is the final day for the breathtaking poppy installation at the Tower of London. Poppies have been a symbol for veterans since the wars of the early 19th century.

The symbol of a red poppy for the fallen soldier really crystallized around a poem written by a physician and soldier named John McCrae in 1915. Today, as the last of almost 900,000 ceramic poppies are installed outside the Tower of London – one for each of the fallen English soldiers from World War I – it is worth reflecting on the words of that poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Red poppies have been used as a symbol to represent soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice many times. The sheer horror of some of the worst battles merits remembrance. John McCrae had been a victim of one of the earliest uses of chemical warfare, and burying his fellow soldiers in Flanders in Belgium was an inspiration for this poem.

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Closing up the wall with red poppies for the WWI English dead at the Tower of London

By peter



Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close up the wall with our English dead.

Thus begins King Henry’s speech as he rallies his troops to besiege the French city of Harfleur.  It’s a stirring speech, beginning of Act 3 of Henry V by Shakespeare, describing a battle that was fought in 1415.  The English won.  Harfleur fell.  Henry’s army included about 8,000 men.  Henry’s tactics included smashing the walls of the French city, as well as scaling the wall to break in.

Fast forward 500 years to World War I.  Many, many, more Englishmen fought than had ever fought before, and English soldiers died by the thousands.  One single infamous day, during the Battle of the Somme, caused the deaths of 19,240 men (The English were fighting with the French, instead of against them, unlike in Henry V’s day).

WWI was not just different from medieval conflicts – it was unlike any previous war.  It was known at the time as the “war to end all wars.”  It was the beginning of modern warfare, with battles fought in trenches and the first uses of chemical weapons.

Now, fast forward another 100 years to today.  A stunning new tribute to the English soldiers who gave their lives in World War I is now on display in London.  Surrounding the Tower of London there are hundreds of thousands of red, porcelain poppies.  There are 888,246 poppies, one for every English soldier who died in WWI — so many that the grass surrounding the Tower resembles an ocean of blood.  The poppies themselves are enough to “close up the wall”.  I was there a couple of weeks ago on a beautiful October morning and was deeply moved by the sight of the poppies.  According to the Derby Telegraph, the artist was inspired to create the installation when he read a soldier’s will.  The installation is called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.”  WorldStrides International Discovery provides tours featuring the tower of London, as well as tours of England and France that touch on warfare in the 20th century.  These journeys are chances to reflect on the sacrifices made by previous generations of soldiers of all nationalities.

More stunning photos of the poppies are linked on Twitter (see #towerpoppies). The poppies project also helps support nonprofits for veterans. The installation will be available until the 11th of November — Veteran’s Day in the U.S.

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Decorate Your Desktop: Autumnal Paris

By Amy

Is there anything more charming than Europe in the fall? As leaves are changing color and beginning to drop down to the earth, I find myself dreaming of winding alleyways and romantic avenues like the Champs-Élysées of Paris. When it gets too chilly, I’d stop in a side street cafe for some needed warmth and a cup of cafe au lait. Merveilleux!

Download this month’s desktop calendar of Paris in autumn to provide some inspiration throughout November!

WSID_November_Paris_1024 x 768


Download the size that best fits your screen:

1024×768 1280×800 1440×900 1680×1050 1920×1080

Don’t forget to check back at the beginning of next month!

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Hi, I'm Ashley! I've lived and traveled around the world and I'm a true believer that travel changes lives. I want to share my personal travel discoveries and insights on all of our social media avenues, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest! On The Educated Traveler blog, the official blog of WorldStrides International Discovery programs, you'll find all kinds of great information about travel and education, tips, news, classroom lesson ideas and more! Subscribe above!


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