Lest We Forget

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No doubt as you, I’ve bought my poppy every year. I’ve marked the silence as that two minutes has cut into busy days, lazy days, happy days and sad days.

Sometimes I have barely noticed it, engrossed in the importance of right now. Other times I’ve sat quietly, searching the faces of the ageing veterans on the TV set; seeking signs of the thoughts, memories and emotions behind their eyes. Hoping their pain was not too unbearable. Hoping they could un-see some of what they suffered. Hoping they understood our collective gratitude.

Yet still it all becomes routine, that kind of thanksgiving, as we live so apparently disconnected from that time. The last British WW1 soldier Harry Patch, left the stage at 111 on 25 July 2009.

The numbers of lives lost amid the horror of The Great War, the war to end all wars as they believed it then, is a little incomprehensible. Hard for anyone to genuinely picture in their imagination. Each life lost signaled a distinct tragedy yet also reached out with a brutal force, ripping apart families and communities- breaking connections, souls and hearts.

100 years has created a gap filled with such social, cultural and technological change, that 1914 is almost unrecognisable to us. Always and only seen to us in books, museums and on faded film- how then can it feel wholly real?

Stockton Library hosted an incredible event this month to make that tangible; to peel away the formality, the distance and the black and white and present WW1 to us in vivid colour. Allowing us the opportunity to really stop, listen and appreciate; to connect. Reaching out with gratitude, respect and humanity to those lost but also those left wounded; in body, soul or spirit.

In song and spoken word Mike McGrother, representatives from St.Patricks Catholic College, Jessica Daley, Dan Donnelly, Gordon Steel, Caroline Gregory, Infant Hercules, Town Choir, Cherry Head Cherry Heart and North Skelton Brass Band shared with us an incredible evening of authenticity and honesty. You can see a video of the event created by Ian Paine here.

We were extremely privileged to be commissioned to photograph the preparations, the event and also produce individual creative images to go along with each set piece on stage. Reading, researching and trying to genuinely understand the horrors, the tenderness and the lives of those thrown into a conflict unlike anything that had ever been before was incredibly sobering and humbling. We experienced real anger, helplessness and shame for what our fellow man had had to endure.

Even in this more heightened state of awareness we were still blown away by the production; the emotion conveyed and the information, music and stories shared were genuinely overwhelming and absorbing. Over the course of the evening the young people of St. Patrick’s helped us all to make a poppy each. As we all rose and sang Abide With Me at the finale banners filled with poppies made over the night were lowered into the atrium of the Library.

Not one poppy worn then by the drapes was a casual act, an obligation, a throw away thought. Each one was imbued with love, thanks and gratitude. For 4 long years The Great War raged, through folly and fortitude; we are all connected to those who participated and we can honour their terrible sacrifices and burden through our gratitude and awareness. Huge thanks to everyone involved for creating something that allowed us all to do that so well and with such grace.

Lest We Forget- that’s Real Stockton.

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