Cutting a Dash through the 21st Century

Culture

Memories at the Tower

I’ve seen many memorials and commemorative events in my time, but I’d be surprised if I see anything again quite as beautiful as the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London. My photo doesn’t do it justice – it is simply wonderful.

Poppies at the Tower

I took advantage of the recent great weather to take this in, and I was so pleased that I picked a day where the light really brought out the deep red of these ceramic poppies. It’s been created by two designers Paul Cummins and Tom Piper to commemorate the Centenary of the start of the First World War – each poppy represents a British military death during that war. Find out more here.

Beefeater_at_the_TowerThe Tower has always had a special place for me ever since I visited as a young boy and heard the stories of Anne Boleyn and the Two Princes (and their supposed ghosts). The tale of the Kingdom falling should the Ravens leave captures the imagination of a child and I always believed that I feel the pulse of London while there. For me the Tower is the City’s ancient heart.

I was lucky enough a few months back to attend the Ceremony of the Keys held in the grounds of the Tower. This is the oldest continuously run military ceremony in the world – it has been performed every night (bar one or two inconveniences such as German bombs falling on the Tower) for over 700 years. The Yeoman Warder (a Beefeater to you and I) locks the outer gate and marches with his escort to the inner gate. There a young foot soldier will challenge him with an exchange that has been repeated word for word (with only a change of monarch’s name) for seven centuries:

Sentry: “Halt, who comes there?” (not ‘goes’)

Yeoman Warder: “The keys.”

Sentry: “Whose keys?”

Yeoman Warder: “Queen Elizabeth’s keys

Sentry: “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All is well.”

Beefeater_at_the_Tower_of_London,_England-31July2006Then the party pass into the inner courtyard with a cry of ‘God Save the Queen’. Stirring stuff; especially in the darkness among the phantoms of the Tower. I quizzed the Beefeater showing us around as to how he felt about sleeping among these ghost stories, the Warders all live in the grounds. He personally hadn’t noticed much, but many of his fellow Beefeaters had reported spooky happenings – books flying through the air, that sort of thing. Yet they accepted living alongside these ghostly events as a peculiarity of what is an extraordinary job (only available to Senior NCOs of HM Forces with 22 years of unblemished service). They are true guardians of a nation’s memories – whether of the 1400’s or of 1914.

 

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