The poppy exhibition at the Tower of London has become a national sensation, with some 4 million people expected to have seen it by the time the last of the poppies is planted on Nov. 11, the day the war ended in 1918. (Washington Post)
Teachers, scroll down of a short list of key resources in our “Teachers Toolkit.”
- Look at the space in the image above. It was taken in August 2014, before “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” the breathtaking public art exhibit at the Tower of London, was complete. What was the original use of the green space where the poppies are, between the Tower of London (the stone building on the left) and the area where the photo was taken—where millions of tourists gather to view the installation?
- The broad area around the heavily walled castle was its moat. The moat is about 50 meters (160 feet) wide. The Tower of London sits on the banks of the Thames, and when the castle was constructed its moat was filled with water from the river. Over the centuries, the moat became filled with silt. In the 19th century, the moat was drained entirely.
- The title of the exhibit at the Tower of London is “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.” Why do you think that title was chosen?
- “Blood swept lands and seas of red” is a line from a poem written by an unknown World War I soldier. Read the whole poem here.
- The bright red color of the poppies symbolizes blood and the sacrifice of service members during World War I. It also recalls the executions that took place in the Tower of London. Read about the Tower’s most famous execution here.
- The “sea” echoes the original use of the space, the tower’s river-moat.
- The Washington Post article says “the Great War is not on the minds of many Americans, [in the United Kingdom] it remains profoundly relevant.” Why?
- World War I (and World War II) had a much more devastating impact on Europe than the United States and North America. Although no WWI battles were fought on the island of Great Britain itself, the empire endured more than three million casualties. (Casualties include military and civilian deaths, as well as the wounded and missing.) Russia and the Axis powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary suffered more than twice those casualties. The United States suffered more than 300,000 casualties.
- World War I is still a controversial subject in Britain. The reasons for the war, the way it was fought, and how it should be remembered have been the subjects of contentious debate in British classrooms this centenary year. (And anyone who has not seen the fourth season of Blackadder, the WWI-set Britcom mentioned in the article? What are you waiting for?)
- Why do you think the artists who crated Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red chose poppies as their theme?
- The remembrance poppy (like the one worn by the Afghan soldier above) is a symbol of Veterans Day (also known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day) in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The simple, stylized, red-and-black flower is worn to commemorate military casualties of war.
- The remembrance poppy is so popular, it has inspired variations. The white poppy symbolizes pacifism. The purple poppy symbolizes the sacrifices of animals during war. (Read more about animal veterans here.)
- Thousands of people have placed paper remembrance poppies and tributes to loved ones killed in action around the Tower of London. Read about the tributes here.
- The flower is a symbol of World War I. One of the plants that grew in the devastated landscape of World War I battlefields was the red poppy, nicknamed the “corn poppy” because it often grows on the edges of grain fields.
- Canadian veteran John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” is one of the most famous and lasting descriptions of the war. Read the poem here. An American schoolteacher established the remembrance poppy as a lasting symbol of respect for veterans. Read about her effort here.
- What do the 888,246 poppies surrounding the Tower of London symbolize?
- The poppies symbolize the 888,246 British or Commonwealth lives lost during World War I. (That is just one estimate, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Other estimates (such as one from the British War Office) put the number lower, while others (such as PBS) estimate higher.) The Commonwealth of that period included not only England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, but also such colonies and dominions as Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa. Read more about the Commonwealth of Nations here.
- Despite the tremendous popularity of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the exhibit will be (mostly) dismantled this week. Why was November 11 chosen for the final day of the exhibit?
- On November 11, 1918, at 11:11 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—Germany signed an armistice agreement, officially ending World War I. Read more about the armistice here.
- It’s an ephemeral exhibit, never meant to be permanent. This itself signifies the short life of the victims, and how quickly their sacrifice can be forgotten.
Learn more about how the poppies were created.
- The Historic Royal Palaces’ Learning Team asks three questions. Can you answer them?
- Why should we remember?
- Why is 100 years significant?
- How do you want to remember?
- This video might help.
Nat Geo This Day in Geographic History: 1918: ‘The Great War’ Ends
Historic Royal Palaces: Tower of London—Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red