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.