The prospect of climbing up a steep hill in the driving torrential rain whilst being buffeted by high winds was not a welcome one. However, the world changing history behind this memorial being constructed by the Symondsbury Estate jolted me into action.
We started off in the Tithe Barn where enormous piles of poppies were accumulating, painstakingly tied onto large squares of netting. On closer inspection I was struck by each poppy’s individuality. These were a real labour of love combined with endless patience.
Small groups of excited children were gathering, proud of their contribution to this rewarding community project. One group settled themselves round a table and pulled out their lunch boxes. ‘Three chocolate bourbon biscuits today’ one exclaimed with obvious delight. ‘We can’t climb up the hill hungry’ he explained. ‘Do you know what the poppies signify?’ I asked. They looked at me askance, ‘dead people of course’ they answered. ‘I’m going to be silent for two minutes when the clock chimes eleven’ said one, ‘I’m going to keep quiet all morning’ retorted another. They all looked thoughtful.
As if by a miraculous intervention the clouds cleared, and the sun appeared. Enthusiastically the children rushed on ahead, some in wellingtons and some not so well prepared. They were oblivious of course to the mud and when one slithered precariously backwards there were hoots of laughter. A dog bounded alongside us whilst a woman who proudly told me she was in her eighties tightly clutched onto her hat whilst stoically attempting the ascent. The wind whipped round us as we carefully picked our way up the slippery slope.
The poppies were beginning to snake down the hill, looking as they should, a cascading river of colour. The children were loving the wind and twirled on the hillside. ‘Look at the view’ they shrieked, indeed it is always worth the climb. Pictures were being taken. ‘Are those to show your parents?’ I enquired, ‘Nooooo for Instagram’ they chorused.
A lady appeared at the base of the hill clutching a plastic bag full of crocheted poppies. Slowly inching her way upwards and towards us she grabbed the nearest young man for support, (who happened to be on holiday from France). He had heard about the project through social media and was delighted to take part. On chatting to him afterwards and asking what had struck him most about the morning, he said it was the overwhelming feeling of community spirit. The wide age range of everyone involved amazed him. Not only was it a local undertaking but now it was an international one! It had inspired people, given them a moment to pause and reflect as they all sat companionably knitting or cutting and fashioning the flowers. Stories were regaled as the hours ticked by, new friendships were forged, old friends were scooped up again. It was an exercise that pulled everyone together, gave them a chance to show they care, an opportunity to express that they remember the sacrifices made during all wars.
Certainly, the older generation had memories to impart. Through this unique event for example one lady said that for every poppy she made she thought of the grandfather she had never met. Hearing various tales from those who had contributed to the installation it seemed to confirm that community spirit is alive and well in rural Dorset.
I came away hoping that for those who witness this moving spectacle it will offer them a private moment to reflect. It is a tale of a community gathering together and strengthening ties, bound by history yet moving forward with hope.
Materials donated by… Coastal Nets, Huck, Sicor International, G.F. Smith, Vanilla Valley, Creeds Design & Print, Creative Solutions
Poppies made by… Symondsbury C of E School, Sunny Days Bridport, The Sir John Colfox Academy, The Wey Valley School & Sports College, 1st Bothenhampton Guides & Brownies, Westfield Arts College, Beaminster School, Bridport Primary School, St Catherine’s RC Primary School, Loders CE Primary School, local WI’s, Symondsbury’s Knitting Group, Tricuro Bridport Connect, Bridport Pantomime, Kingfisher Ward Dorset County Hospital, Bridport Youth & Community Centre, Lyme Bay Ladies, The Woodroffe School, Mosterton Beavers & Scouts, Loders Youth Club, Loders Primary School, anonymous poppy makers, volunteers who attended poppy making workshops, and many, many more…
Supported by… Colmers Hill Fashion, Dorset Poppy Appeal, The Royal British Legion