WRIGHT THINKING: Public art makes us remember

Volunteers remove poppies from the moat of the Tower of London, as work begins dismantling the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' installation. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Volunteers remove poppies from the moat of the Tower of London, as work begins dismantling the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' installation. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

It’s been amazing to see the incredible effect that public art has had on the public recently.

 In particular, the marking of the 25th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and the stunning sea of poppies in London come to mind.

 Anyone who saw those TV pictures from Germany will never forget them, and there was something both stunning and life-affirming about the sight of ordinary people literally tearing down the ultimate symbol of a totalitarian regime.

 I still have a genuine fragment of the Wall, kindly given to me by the late Frank Cook, MP for Stockton North, who happened to be there just as it all happened.

 You may have seen the simple yet attention grabbing symbol in the shape of the line of illuminated balloons which marked the line of the Wall, now largely gone, and the simple gesture of them being released to fly away into history.

 Closer to home, the poppy field around the Tower of London has had an impact that even its inspirational creator can hardly have dreamed about.

 I was there again recently just before the final ceramic poppy was placed, with their huge numbers reflecting the, mainly young, lives that were lost in the First World War.

 The huge crowds were there day after day, and into the night when the floodlighting gave an even bigger punch.

 What was remarkable was that it was nothing like being part of a tourist group with chatter and banter.

 There was the respectful hush which comes from the realisation of what it all means; rather like the subdued feeling you have when going into a place of worship.

 As I write, there is the suggestion that at least part of the display will stay until well after the original dismantling date of November 11, Remembrance Day, and, as the proud owner of one those poppies, I have no problem at all in waiting a little longer for delivery so that more people can have an unforgettable experience.

 I heard one radical suggestion in London that perhaps a tank should drive across the field of poppies and crush them to remind us of how so many young lives were crushed in their prime.

 I respect that view, but I think it will be even more powerful to know that those poppies will be going to hundreds of thousands of homes as a permanent reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

 As you may know, the figure of 888,246 poppies represents the number of British and Colonial lives lost in the conflict.

 You will have seen the dozens of images recording the faces of the young men setting off for war a century ago.

 It’s humbling to think that many of our forebears here in Hartlepool would have set off for what they believed was a kind of adventure.

 They thought they would go to a foreign country, probably for the first time, give the enemy a bloody nose and be home by Christmas.

 Sadly, many local men would never see home again.

 I’ve mentioned before that our own commemoration of the Bombardment next month will have its own power – and the chance to show genuine respect to people just like us who had an awful deal from history.