The Poppy Project

by Penny Casey

A poppy display of 5,589 individual poppies with the words 'Lest We Forget' and the silhouette of a soldier

How it started

For years I have wanted to create a large poppy display and in November last year I voiced this to our Relief Society president, Yvonne Kerr, who expressed a similar desire.  Because we were coming to the close of a horrible year of lockdowns, we felt that setting this up as a project for 2021 would be an ideal time to do it as it would give us something to focus on while we were restricted to our homes and by giving us a common purpose, we would not feel so isolated.  Little did we know at that point that we were heading into further lockdowns and this project became a lifeline for many women. The culmination of this work was to be a display at the Chapel where we would hold a special commemorative meeting to which we would invite community leaders as well as our members and friends.

Yvonne asked me to pull a small committee together to make this happen and I knew exactly who to ask.

The Committee

Esther Wilford became our Internal Communications Director, whose job it was to keep the sisters and ward members updated with our progress. When she relocated out of our Ward, we enlisted Julie Beveridge who also did a wonderful job.

Yvonne Kerr acted as our External Communications Director. She sent out all the external invitations to official delegates, war veterans and medal holders to attend our event.

Mandy Watson acted as the Technical and Structural Engineer (to ensure the large display was stable).  The fact that the structure is so sound is very much down to Mandy’s skills and hard work. Part of the display was the silhouette of a soldier. Mandy built all the framework and did all the sealing to make it waterproof before spending many hours as doing several coats of undercoat and paint.  She really needs to be acknowledged more for her role in it all. I had the idea and vision but she engineered the whole thing.  Mandy has lots of experience with making sure structures and frameworks are safe and secure and we would need her skills when it came to putting the display together. Mandy is in the middle of restoring a very large, old house and so many of the materials that went into the framework and structure of the display came from her home - from the netting holding the poppies to the cobblestones that weigh the stands down, to the scaffolding outriggers used to stabilize the frame.

I had the easy task of chairing the committee and acting as a wool merchant and distributor.  Because we commenced the project during a 4-tier lockdown in Scotland, no one could get out to buy wool so I bought in bulk then coordinated with individuals, finding safe ways to deliver and distribute. 

The Display

Thirty women made and contributed poppies.  Because we wouldn’t physically collect poppies from sisters, every four weeks Esther, and then Julie, would send a request on various messaging platforms to ask how many poppies had been made since the last count.  Sisters would relay this to me and I would keep a tally in a small notebook.  We were hoping to reach a total of 1,500 poppies, feeling we could do a nice, decent display with that amount.  However, I soon had to keep a record using a spreadsheet because within no time at all we had by far exceeded our initial goal.  By the week before the display went up, we had received a staggering 5,589 poppies!

3,592 were made by sisters from Alloa ward.  262 by sisters from other wards around the country. 

967 poppies were made by a friend of one of our members and a further 692 made by others not of our faith based up and down the country who belong to a Facebook crafting group. 76 came from a non-member relative of mine in Holland.

We were grateful to all 30 women who made and added to the total, but recognition should go to a committee member, Julie Beveridge who made a very impressive 1,373 poppies herself.

A brother who gave plenty of help throughout the project, Eammon Brereton, made a ‘Lest We Forget’ sign as part of the display.

We estimate that thousands of hours were spent by so many in the preparations for this event but they all felt that this truly has been a labour of love.

Other neighbour and local companies contributed the steel and used their equipment to cut out the soldier’s gun, others donated tenting fabric, and super heavy-duty guy pegs from rebar.  A kind and generous benefactor who donated £200 for the making of the soldier.  A self-employed contractor came to the building on the final day of construction and when he saw that we were rapidly running out of time, took the afternoon off to help us with some of the wire tethering and knocking in-ground spikes.

The Outside Lighting Up Ceremony

On Friday 22nd October we held an outside lighting up ceremony, conducted by Sister Yvonne Kerr.  Besides members of the ward, we had in attendance invited guests who included the Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire, Lt Col (Retd) Johnny Stewart, and the most senior member of Alloa Ward, Sister Dorothy Kendall who pushed a button that lit up the monumental display.  Esther Wilford beautifully sang Vera Lynn’s “When The Lights Go On Again, All Over The World” and “I Vow To Thee My Country”.  One of our Primary children, Emma Black, read the much-quoted lines from ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon.  People passing stopped to join the crowd, inside and outside of the fencing surrounding the grounds.

We tried to give each poppy its own space to clearly represent an individual.  There are varying shades of red and a myriad of patterns, symbolizing the differences in those individuals who, all together have made a huge difference for each of us.

Just before the button was pressed to illuminate the display, we acknowledged to the assembled crowd, many who were not members of our church, that as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we try to put Christ at the centre of all we do and it was in His name that on that night and during the season of Remembrance, we honour those from WW1 and WW11 who fought and fell to give us our freedom, but the display also honours and gives reverence to those in the past and those who currently protect our land, shores, and skies from unseen enemies.  

They are the real heroes, and that really is what the display is about.

The completed poppy display lit up at night

Yvonne Kerr president of the Relief Society, said: “We really felt that there was a need for people who weren't able to get together to be able to do something in unity. “It was a good way for the women of the church to stay in contact with one another and to be able to serve and help other people.” She added: “As Covid started to progress we really wanted to run with the idea, to be able to acknowledge that there were other people who had sacrificed a lot more than we got to sacrifice. “We were very privileged to be able to acknowledge them by creating the poppies.”

Yvonne Kerr, told the Advertiser: “It was very well attended, we were surprised by how many people came. “It was really wonderful – a lovely event and a great tribute to those who served in our military services and a great way to thank them for what they've done for us.”