I’m down in London for World Travel Market this week, and as I’m sat in my hotel room after a long day, I keep thinking about the Tower of London and the special commemorative display that it’s currently running.
Tonight after the conference I went out for some fresh air, and was vaguely aware of a Remembrance display that I’d read about briefly on Twitter, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed.
When I got off the tube at Tower Hill it was absolutely packed with people. At first I thought it was just London rush hour going on twice as long as everywhere else, but as I head towards the Tower of London I realised that all these people weren’t actually moving. They were all pressed up against the black railings that surround the tower, it’s moat and the banks either side, completely silent.
I found a gap in the crowds and had a look through, and could see the silhouettes of people silently lighting candles in the tower moat. It was so eerie to watch, at first I thought maybe because it’s so close to Halloween, but as they silently lit each candle one by one, the realisation that each one represented a fallen soldier just kind of hits. All thoughts of Halloween and even bonfire night firework bangs in the distance escape your mind completely.
As I came further round the tower I found the queue to get into the free public viewing areas. Staff are on hand to quietly guide you through, and basically the public walkways that surround the tower moat are used as viewing platforms for the installation and lighting ceremony that will occur every night up to and including Remembrance Day. It’s so strange, in silence and almost complete darkness. I’ve never known London so quiet.
The Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London are all ex servicemen and women, and they light the first candle, followed by many more with the help of volunteers. They begin right up by the tower wall, and then over the course of a few hours light all the candles so they spread in a slow wave across the moat. This ritual will happen every night, accompanied by music and spoken quotes from war poetry ‘Sonnets to a Soldier’, and it’s one of the most impressive acts of remembrance I’ve ever seen.
With the smoke creeping low across the ground, dancing among the candles and with the accompanying sound it totally transfixes you and it looks almost as though you’re looking over no mans land at all the poor lost souls. It’s so moving that people were just stood for ages watching, paying their own silent respects and taking photos of this sad but beautiful sight.
The tower itself looming overhead almost goes unnoticed for a while if you can believe that, but it’s medieval ancient presence and dark shadow is what gives this whole installation it’s official name – Beyond the Deepening Shadow.
The whole thing transports you back in time, and is an incredible creation and so well done for the centenary of such a huge part of our history. I studied war poetry as part of my English Literature A level and it really brought all those memorable phrases back.
But it’s not just about looking back, it’s also about hope, and looking beyond into the future. A sweeping glance to the right and stuck above the immediate skyline of the ancient Tower of London, Tower Bridge, this eerie no mans land directly in front of you, is the new, modern Shard.
You can take it all in as you walk slowly along the path until you reach the exit and climb back up the steps to what feels like reality again.
They’ve done an amazing job of tastefully bringing the events of 100 years ago right into your present day, and while a war like that won’t ever happen again, it’s a stark reminder that there are very different wars and battles going on in modern times.
If you’re in London over the next week I really would urge you to go and witness it for yourself, as it puts a lot of things in perspective.