Last Friday, 2nd November, we strolled around Canterbury on a lovely sunny but chilly day to see the different sites of Remembrance that have recently been installed in the City. Each eye-catching display attracted groups of passers-by to pause, reflect and admire the unique pieces of artwork.
First, we discovered this giant Poppy wreath with a ‘There But Not There’ black Tommy silhouette on either side of it above the ‘Next’ clothing store at the Whitefriars shopping centre. The poppies used for the wreath had been lovingly knitted and donated by hundreds of local people.
Then, we strolled the short distance into the Marlowe Arcade to see the Weeping Cascade on either side of the entrance. The information boards explained that the cascade was formed of 10,000 knitted and crocheted poppies created by a legion of volunteer Canterbury women.
Approaching the Westgate Towers at the far end of Canterbury High Street, we were treated to the sight of an impressive Weeping Window cascading from the left hand tower. The poppies for this stark display were made from the bottom of plastic bottles which were then sprayed red. An ingenious use of otherwise useless waste material destined for disposal by the local authority.
Following an enjoyable meander through the back streets of Canterbury, we made our way to Canterbury Cathedral. There we found not one but three remembrance events.
Inside the Cathedral, there is the St Michael’s Memorial Chapel, which was dedicated to The Royal East Kent Regiment. Familiarly known as ‘The Buffs’, this regiment traced its history back to 1572 when 300 men had volunteered for service in Holland. They were armed as pikemen, dressed in buff-coloured leather jerkins and assisted in a struggle against the Spanish They were officially linked to East Kent during 1782 and their first “depot” was established at Canterbury in 1817. The regiment has taken part in nearly all of the major conflicts over the centuries. In 1958, the Buffs began their last operational tour in Aden. Amalgamations with other regiments and battalions followed and finally it became The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in 1992.
Since 1926, at 11am each day in the chapel, a page in the Book of Life is turned on which is inscribed the names of ‘Buffs’ who have given their lives for their country. There were 6,500 casualties from the First War alone.
In years past, a single soldier would march down St Martin’s Hill from Howe barracks to the Cathedral each day, ready to turn the page at 11 am and then march back to the barracks. Sadly, amid heightened security concerns, the tradition which began in 1926 and observed every day throughout the Second World War was discontinued in the latter half of the twentieth century. Today, the act of remembrance is normally carried on by members of the Queen’s Own Buffs Regimental Association and the nearby bell from HMS Canterbury is still rung.
Standing inside the chapel is a There But Not There Tommy silhouette alongside the regimental drum dressed with poppies.
We were fortunate with the timing of our walk. When approaching the east end of the Cathedral Precincts, we came upon a gathering of the Clergy, British Legion members, Flag bearers and members of the public. A Field of Remembrance had been set out on the grass and was about to be dedicated during a short service. There were already over 500 hundred wooden crosses displayed in the field, each one dedicated to a casualty listed on the Canterbury War Memorial. This memorial stands in the Buttermarket just outside the main gates of the Cathedral.
We joined in with the service of dedication and were especially moved when the haunting sounds of the Last Post were played to a silent congregation all dwarfed by this magnificent 8th Century structure. Some of the tradesmen working on the restoration of the Cathedral took a time out from their labours and joined in the service.
Adjacent to the field of remembrance, there was the twenty-foot tall War Horse which was built in the Precincts last month. Led by Sculptor Clive Soord, students and staff from Canterbury School of Visual Arts at Canterbury College have created a large-scale wooden horse for the Cathedral Precincts Uniquely, the horse’s tail is made from several lengths of rope which swayed in the gentle breeze.
The Canterbury War Horse’s head is bowed in respect, facing oncoming visitors to the cathedral. Under its feet, there was a large carpet of poppies also made from recycled plastic bottles and shaped by children from across the Diocese. The installation was a really magnificent and unforgettable sight.
We felt the magnificent old city of Canterbury had responded with dignity and creativity to commemorate the centenary of the end of The First World War.