Head bowed in tribute, a lone Beefeater pays homage to a lost generation in a stunning sea of blazing remembrance.
With the world preparing to mark the centenary of the Armistice and the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, this was the extraordinary scene at the Tower of London last night (and for every night this week) as Britain lights the flames of commemoration – all 10,000 of them.
Four years ago, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the moat of the Tower was filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for every man and woman who died serving King and country.
Viewed by millions, it proved to be one of the most popular pieces of contemporary and commemorative art ever seen.
With the world preparing to mark the centenary of the Armistice and the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, this was the extraordinary scene at the Tower of London last night (pictured)
The success of the 2014 display of poppies at the tower meant Historic Royal Palaces, who maintain the landmark, were keen to mark the centenary of Armistice. The ceremony, named Beyond The Deepening Shadow, will be repeated each night until the final showing on Remembrance Sunday
Volunteers help to light first thousands of flames in the dry moat of the Tower of London as part of an installation called Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers, to mark the centenary of the end of First World War
To mark 100 years since the day the guns fell silent, the Tower is once again providing a dazzling backdrop to a nation’s thoughts of remembrance.
Except this time, it is not poppies but flames which are filling the moat each night, until the last ones disappear as Remembrance Sunday draws to a close on November 11.
At the start of the war, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously declared: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe.’
This vast commemorative exercise represents the moment they came back on again – along with the grief of those who survived to rebuild a shattered world.
Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) lighting the first of thousands of flames in a lighting ceremony in the dry moat of the Tower of London as part of an installation called Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers, to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War
A man plays a bugle to signify the start of a minute of silence ahead of the torches being lit for the installation ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ at The Tower of London
Last night’s opening display of ‘Beyond The Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers’ with a floodlit bugler on the roof of the Middle Tower playing the Last Post and a minute’s silence.
A small procession of Yeomen Warders – better known as Beefeaters – plus the Constable and the Governor of the Tower formed a guard of honour and the first of the 10,000 torches were ignited by a tri-service trio.
In order to represent past, present and future, yesterday’s ceremony was performed by a retired Lieutenant Colonel, a serving midshipman from the Royal Naval Reserve and an air cadet.
Out of the shadows, a small battalion of volunteer torch-lighters emerged in pairs. Each night, about a hundred of them have the task of illuminating half a mile of grass-covered moat.
A Beefeater walking amongst the thousands of flames in a lighting ceremony in the dry moat of the Tower of London
Some turned out to have been volunteers who helped with that great poppy display four years ago. Some had simply read about this venture in the Mail and wanted to be a part of it.
Each pair consists of a ‘leader’ with a magnetic wand who lifts the metal cover off each torch followed by a ‘lighter’ who carries a blowtorch on the end of a rod. Despite the scale of the exercise, it took only about 20 minutes before the whole moat was ablaze.
‘There’s the same sort of buzz that there was with the poppies,’ said Charlotte Howard, a cook from Hampshire.
‘It’s a wonderful atmosphere but it does make you remember all those who lost their lives.’
Yeoman of the Guard lights the first torches in the installation ‘Beyond The Deepening Shadow’ at Tower of London this evening
Several torch-lighting pairs turned out to be husband and wife, such as Dean and Kerry Rockall, from Bedfordshire.
All have been issued with a flame-retardant grey boiler suit (to blend in with the Tower’s stonework) and have undergone several hours of training – not just to tick all the health and safety boxes but to ensure they light their designated ‘zone’ of torches in the correct order. It has all been planned in minute detail by Tom Piper, the designer of the installation.
‘We want the flames to spread in “fingers” of light until the whole moat is ablaze,’ explained Mr Piper, a theatre designer who also oversaw the great poppy display of 2014 called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
He has arranged the torches at different heights to create a more dramatic effect.
The moat of the Tower of London are seen filled with thousands of lit torches as part of the installation ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’
‘There is something particularly moving about the processional feel of it all,’ he added.
Looking down from Tower Hill were large crowds of onlookers, while a lucky few with tickets walked through the moat itself.
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity which runs the Tower, has already sold out of a limited number of £5 tickets to allow people to experience it all at close quarters (including 100 winners of the Mail’s competition to award tickets to deserving community nominees). The entire project has been funded by HRP and private sponsors.
A Yeoman Warder stands amongst the first of thousands of lit flames which form part of an installation called Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers, in the dry moat of the Tower of London, to mark the centenary of the end of First World War
Since the arts establishment and the National Lottery refused any financial support for the poppies proposal in 2014 (the Guardian even attacked it as a ‘Ukip-style’ memorial), the Tower has not asked for arts funding this time.
The whole experience takes place to the sound of a haunting specially-commissioned choral work recorded by sound artist Mira Calix. Called ‘One Lighted Look For Me’, it is based on a line from the war poem, Sonnet to a Soldier by Mary Borden, who wrote it while working in a field hospital on the Somme.
Smoke wafted over the scene, though this turned out to be dry ice for theatrical effect (the torches use smokeless fuel so do not emit any smoke, fumes or smell).
Beefeaters lighting the first of thousands of flames in a lighting ceremony in the dry moat of the Tower of London as part of an installation called Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers, to mark the centenary of the end of First World War
The ceremony was accompanied by a specially commissioned sound installation featuring choral music, as well as words from war poet Mary Borden’s Sonnets To A Soldier
The ceremony, named Beyond The Deepening Shadow, will be repeated each night until the final showing on Remembrance Sunday
Spectators gathered on vantage points around the tower to witness the spectacle and a minute’s silence was also observed
Even those who have seen plenty of ceremonies found it profoundly stirring. ‘We had remembrance parades every week in Afghanistan in honour of our fallen comrades but I found this very emotional too,’ said Lt-Col Cathy Braddick-Hughes, 50, formerly of the Adjutant General’s Corps, who was one of last night’s special guests. Finally, at about 9pm, the torches ran out of fuel at the allotted time and, on cue, began to flicker and fade.
Another team of volunteers will arrive this morning to refill each canister, as they will each day until Sunday. Unlike the poppies – which are still on display around the country – the torches will then be taken away for recycling.
This mesmerising homage to the fallen will not be repeated. Try to see it while you can.
A woman photographs lit torches that are part of the installation ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ at the Tower of London, this evening
WORLD WAR ONE’S BATTLE OF THE SOMME: ONE OF THE BLOODIEST FIGHTS IN HISTORY T
The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire
Lasting 141 days, the Battle of the Somme was the bloodiest battle of the First World War.
Around 420,000 British soldiers, 200,000 Frenchmen and 500,000 Germans were killed in the battle.
It is estimated 24,000 Canadian and 23,000 Australian servicemen also fell in the four-month fight.
The British and French joined forces to fight the Germans on a 15-mile-long front, with more than a million-people killed or injured on both sides.
The Battle started on the July 1, 1916, and lasted until November 19, 1916. The British managed to advance seven-miles but failed to break the German defence.
On the first day alone, 19,240 British soldiers were killed after ‘going over the top’ and more than 38,000 were wounded.
But on the last day of the battle, the 51st Highland Division took Beaumont Hamel and captured 7,000 German prisoners.
The plan was for a ‘Big Push’ to relieve the French forces, who were besieged further south at Verdun, and break through German lines.
Although it did take pressure off Verdun it failed to provide a breakthrough and the war dragged on for another two years.