‘Blood swept lands and seas of red’ is the title of the art work by Paul Cummins which has adorned the moat of the Tower of London. The huge numbers that have queued to see it is an indication that the work has captured the public imagination. It has been so popular that some of the installation will remain beyond the date it was due to be taken down.
The title of the work is the first line of a poem by an unknown World War I soldier. The beginning of the poem captures the awful loss of life:
The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red.
Over 888,000 poppies represent the dead from Britain and the Commonwealth. However, WW1 saw over 20 million troops and civilians die and 21 million being wounded.
Somebody has loaned me a cigarette box which was found among the possessions of their grandfather who died many years ago. The grandfather fought in WW1 and on the front of the cigarette box is emblazoned the words ‘Christmas 1914.’ Inside the box is a small card from Princess Mary wishing the owner of the box a ‘Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year.’ These cigarette boxes were sent to troops on the front line and contained tobacco and cigarettes.
However, carefully wrapped with the box in my possession.is a pouch of German tobacco. Also, it looks as though there are just two cigarettes missing. Christmas 1914 was the time when hostilities were set aside for a few days and soldiers, who had been shooting at each other the days before, and continued to do so the days after, came out of their trenches wished each other a Happy Christmas and even played football in no-man’s land. Perhaps, just perhaps, the German pouch of tobacco and the two missing cigarettes are indications of this fraternisation.
Over this time we remember and give thanks for those who gave their lives during two world wars and in the many conflicts since then. It is amazing that in the middle of the horrors of war, heroes emerge. But we also give thanks that many did not lose their humanity, but, as Christmas 1914 showed, both sides were still able to communicate with their enemies and treat them as human beings.
Whenever we fail to do this, we have, indeed, lost touch with our humanity.