Just over 100 years ago to the day, Big Ben struck eleven at night. Normally, this innocuous act marked little more than it was nearly midnight in the capital, but in 1914, it meant that Germany had failed to meet Britain’s ultimatum and the First World War began in earnest.
The capital was plunged into darkness for over an hour as a mark of respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their respective countries, in a conflict which raged for 4 years, across several continents and claimed the lives of millions.
A candle lit vigil, which was televised across the country, was held at the Palace of Westminster where various luminaries read diary extracts and poetry from the time alongside prayers from a number of high profile religious figures.
Perhaps the most striking installation to make the centenary was a beam of intense white light which shone high above the London skyline, visible from all across the capital. Entitled Spectra, the installation represents hope in the face of adversity and will remain in place until August 11. The theme of light is thought to be inspired by the words of the then foreign secretary Lord Edward Grey upon the outbreak of war: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
The Tower of London is also marking the occasion with perhaps one of the most visually striking art installations the nation has ever seen. Blood Swept Sands, by artist Paul Cummins features 888,246 ceramic poppies flowing out of the Tower and around its walls with each hand crafted poppy representing a British military fatality.
The installation is on-going, with the final poppy set to be planted on November 11, to mark and commemorate the armistice of one of the bloodiest conflicts that humanity has ever known.
Speaking at an event in Liege, Belgium where some of the opening battles took place, Prince William told the gathered European Leaders: “We were enemies more than once in the last century and today we are friends and allies. We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them.”
In addition, a collection of 85 commemorative wreaths representing the 85 regiments which formed the land elements of the British Expeditionary Force, are being transported by carriage to France; mirroring the route taken by the soldiers 100 years before.
If you would like to know more about the role London has played throughout history, then please join us on one of our London Tours, where we reveal the stories of those who lived and worked in the capital. Full details of our tours can be found on our website, but if you have any specific questions or queries, then do not hesitate to get in touch.