Lest We Forget

Poppies at the Tower

It is the weekend of Remembrance, more poignantly felt this year perhaps as we remember the centenary of the commencement of WW1 in 1914. This morning I make an early stop at Tower Hill to see the breathtaking installation of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each one representing a British military fatality, surrounding the Tower of London. I am en route to work in South Kensington, where crowds of musicians, servicemen and servicewomen are gathering ahead of the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall. Police presence is large, all who enter the hall are searched, and parking is suspended on Prince Consort Road.

Royal-College-of-MusicI go up the steps into the Royal College of Music opposite the Albert Hall and walk towards the foyer, as I have done many hundreds of times. Today, however, it is different; in front of the memorial to those RCM alumni who died in two world wars is a music stand on which is a wreath of red poppies. Each name carved into the wall is that of a musician who also walked through these doors, probably laughing and joking, young and carefree. Who were these young men?

Two names I recognize; one is Adolphe Goossens, a horn player,  son of Sir Eugene Goossens. He died, aged 20, on 17 August 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.

5-august-1916-George-Sainton-Kaye-Butterworth_lightboxThe other name is Geo. Sainton Kaye Butterworth – George Butterworth, composer. Aged 31, Butterworth was hit by a sniper on 5th August, 1916, again during the battle of the Somme. Hastily buried by his men in the side of the trench they were defending, his body was subsequently lost. He is one of the Missing of the Somme.  Butterworth’s song cycle, ‘A Shropshire Lad’, although composed in 1911-12, has become almost emblematic of the nation’s  loss in 1914-1918.

‘Is my team ploughing’ is one of the most moving songs in the cycle; a dialogue between a deceased man and his friend, who is still very much alive.

Below is a performance of it by Peter Pears, accompanied by another RCM ex-student, Benjamin Britten, who, with Pears, was a pacifist and a conscientious objector during WWII. Britten’s War Requiem, which features settings of poetry by Wilfrid Owen  amidst the traditional movements of the Requiem, is being performed throughout the country this weekend – to remember.

RIP George Butterworth,  Adolphe Goossens, and all the Fallen RCM alumni. Some of those 888,246 poppies on Tower Hill are for you.

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