During the later part of 2014 and early 2015 I was asked if I would help out by carrying the union standard at a few rededication ceremonies in France and Belgium for soldiers who were killed in World War 1.
I spent over five weeks travelling around France and Belgium attending over thirty-six ceremonies to honour soldiers who headstones were replaced.
Their original headstones had a regimental cap badge and had inscribed upon them a soldier of the particular regiment known unto God.
These headstone were replaced with new headstones bearing the regimental cap badge along with their Rank, service number and the date officially listed as killed in action.
I was so affected by the ceremonies and seeing thousands of headstones row on row in cemeteries.
On my return home I wrote to the Home Office and Commonwealth Office enquiring if there was a National memorial commemorating collectively those killed or listed as missing in World War 1. The replies were not what I had expected from the two Government departments.
The out pouring of National grief after the Great War every village, town and city throughout the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Countries that the residents of the villages, towns and the Cities subscribed to building their own war memorials to honour those from their locality.
The cenotaph became the focus of a national memorial to all those killed or missing in conflict.
Armed with this information I mentioned this to several liked minded veterans and family members to rectify this by building a memorial to honour those listed as killed or missing in World War 1.
Over the following months we formed a group and a plan, during this period I designed the first draft design of the memorial.
Originally the poppy was to be made completely of steel sheet material and filled with remembrance poppy’s one poppy to represent each serviceman/woman from Great Britain and the Commonwealth. During early discussions we decided that the poppy’s should be visible so that everyone could see them.
I consulted a structural engineer friend and he redrew the drawings of the structure to allow the two faces of the poppy to be made of clear glass to allow viewing of the poppy’s.
I realised very quickly that people would not want to just look at remembrance poppy’s sealed behind two glass panels.
At this point I contacted the Commonwealth War Greaves Commission to obtain a complete official list of British and Commonwealth servicemen/women listed as killed or missing in World War 1.
The idea was to hand write every Rank, Name, Service No and Date listed as killed or missing on every remembrance poppy.
Checking through the Commonwealth War Graves files they sent it became very apparent that we would not have room on the poppy’s for a lot of information to be written upon them.
We decided that each poppy would bear the Rank, Name and Date officially listed as killed or missing.
We soon realised that as we were a small group it would be impossible for us to complete the task in time to commemorate the end of World War 1 in 2018.
In early 2017 we launched a website and a Facebook Group page asking people to donate poppy’s and volunteer to hand write the Rank, Name and Date onto poppy’s in small batches of 100 to 500poppy’s and we would supply the information and post them out to them.
Little did we realise then we had opened the floodgates so to speak, within three weeks we received over 280,000 request from all over the World, by the end of 2017 the requests exceeded over 420,000 requests for poppy’s.
Over the past year over 275,000 people from thirty-seven Countries actively wrote the Rank, Name and Date onto poppy’s, many of these Countries were of the Commonwealth.
The Poppy of Honour Team spent many weekends including any free time available to dismantle the poppy’s into three sections Petal, Stem and Centre the leaf was discarded, we gave bags containing the leaves to local Schools and Playgroups to use in art classes to make collages etc.
Problems soon started arising as we were getting bogged down between dismantling and reassembling of poppy’s.
They way we resolved this was to set a network of Hubs around the Country and in a few Commonwealth Countries who would distribute the poppy’s to people in their surrounding area to dismantle, write onto poppy’s, reassemble them and trim of the stems before returning them to the Hub to be then dispatched back to main collection point at my home.
We would send the Hubs one or two boxes containing 2,000 poppy’s.
This speeded up the amount of poppy’s that were being completed and sent back also increased the amount of people participating dramatically.
Through out late 2017 and early 2018 we sent out sponsorship letters to many, many Companies some never even bothered to acknowledge our letters.
We needed Companies to sponsor the construction of the poppy as I was funding out of my savings and wages the costs of printing and postage and packaging sending out the poppy’s to hubs and to individuals around the World.
We very quickly secured a sponsor for the steel, which was kindly donated by AJN Steelstock who also cut the sentinel profiles on a plasma cutter machine.
Cornwall Glass in St Austell Cornwall agreed to sponsor the cost of the two glass panels.
Taunton Fabrications sponsored the shot blasting, Galvanising and painting of the whole memorial.
Vincent Engineering who are based on Henstridge Airfield which was a World War II satellite base for HMS Heron at Yeovilton.
The base at Henstridge Airfield was called HMS Dipper.
This base was used to supply replacement aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm and aircraft carriers operating in many areas around the World during World War II.
By the beginning of September 2018 the poppy rib construction was started with Craig and the help of Sam Smalldon and me helping operate the hand turned rollers to bend the steel into curved plates that would become the poppy rib and form the main structure of the poppy.
This work was very physical and tiring, but very satisfying to that our efforts were fast producing the main elements that would become the poppy.
As each section of the construction came together they were dispatched to Taunton Fabrications for shot blasting, Galvanising and painting.
The support base was by far the easiest part to construct as the beams where cut to length and the angles for the legs which would support the sentinels only required then to be welded together.
However the Poppy rib construction proved to be very challenging as the ellipses that made up the poppy petals the radius’s are not constant and are continuously changing unlike a circle the radius’s are constant and easier to follow.
After spending a great deal of time finally the poppy rib was constructed, everyone involved as elated about the finished poppy rib.
None of the Team involved realised the abnormality of the challenges that lay ahead when it came to fill the poppy.
During the summer months of 2018 we set about promoting the Poppy of Honour we were as to form a display at Taunton Flower Show next to the War Memorial in Vivary Park, Taunton.
Sam and I set about constructing a life-sized mock up of the poppy to stand on the base section along with the unfinished detailing on the sentinels.
This would give us an ideal platform to promote the Poppy of Honour and enable far more people in the locality to participate writing the Names onto poppy’s.
The Liberty Sister’s a 1940’s group who sang World War II song, the ladies wrote several poppy’s each.
Their involvement really boosted our appeal to the public getting involved.
Mid-September 2018 the component’s that made up the poppy memorial were returned to Vincent Engineering after being shot blasted, galvanised and painted, we could feel that the memorial was fast becoming a reality and was exceeding all our expectations.
Poppy’s were chosen randomly to be attached to the eight peg boards that would sit inside the poppy rib to take the pressure off the two glass panels.
The peg boards took over six days to cover with individual poppy’s being treaded through the boards and glued.
It took eight thousand five hundred poppy’s to cover the boards for each side of the poppy.
The peg boards were drilled and countersunk thirty millimetres apart vertically, horizontally and diagonally from the poppy next to it..
Fitting of the eight peg boards took a little longer than expected this was due to the awkward shape of the boards and the difficulty in manoeuvring them into position.
None of us had done anything like this before and it became a very steep learning curve for all.
National Windscreens sent a specialist fitter who would undertake the fitting of the two glass panels and edging strips.
The fitter worked over 3 days to secure the glass panels and edging strips to the poppy, this caused delays in the filling of the poppy with the completed poppy’s.
With the help of a willing volunteer Callum Downton it took us over seven and a half hours to fill the poppy with completed poppy’s.
First we filled the bottom petal section while the poppy was stood up, then laying the poppy flat we proceeded to slowly fill the top petal section. Putting the poppy’s through the two access holes cut in the peg board support centre was difficult as we soon realised that they had been cut too small.
It was too late to alter them, so we continued to fill the top section. Callum and I suffered bad bruising to our forearms due to the constant banging of them against the steel centre and the glass.
Finally the top section was filled, and the centre boss was temporary sealed to the glass and the securing nut done up.
This seal can be easily broken to allow us to put the remaining 35,000 poppy’s that were not completed in time to be added by the ceremony date of 6th October.
On Saturday 6th October as we had envisioned nearly four years earlier was unveiled in Cale Park, Cemetery Lane, Wincanton during a very emotional and poignant ceremony, the pouring rain did little to dampen everyone’s spirits who had participated in the parade the Wincanton to field in Cale Park.
Included amongst the many dignitaries were representatives from the Government of New Zealand, New Zealand Defence Force and a group of Maori’s made up of men and women warriors.
The Poppy will remain on display in Cale Park, Wincanton until 30th October.
On 1st November it starts it tour of the County of Somerset beginning with Frome and visiting a total of nineteen Towns within the County.
The Poppy will return to Cale Park, Wincanton on 20th November and remain on display until 30th November.
The poppy will ten be taken into storage and have the Argon gas injected this to protect the poppy’s inside from moisture and help preserve them.
At the same time the whole memorial will be checked for any damages and touch up the paint to maintain protection when on display..
On Friday 30th November during a signing of documents Wincanton Town Council will then become the official custodians of the Poppy of Honour and the ownership of the Poppy of Honour memorial will be transferred to the Citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and all Citizens of the Commonwealth Countries in perturity.
The Poppy of Honour group will continue is involvement with the memorial.
The group will be responsible for maintaining the memorial and repairs when required.
The group will set up a fundraising and donation team to actively purchase land to set up a memorial garden to build a living memorial to those from World War 1 and those form conflicts up to the present day.
The Poppy of Honour memorial garden will ensure that their names will never be forgotten!
Poppy of Honour Memorial
The base section which is constructed from 175mm by 75mm steel beams are to represent the industrialisation of warfare for the first time in World War 1.
The green base under Neath the poppy which supports the poppy is a representation of the Flanders Fields pushing up the Poppy.
The four sentinels are to replicate the four sentinel guards who guarded the coffin of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey overnight before his internment at the Abbey the following day..