President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are taking part in memorial events in France this weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Meanwhile, across the channel in London, a very public tribute is lighting the night sky to remember those Britain lost in the “war to end all wars.”
As a bugler played “The Last Post” on the Tower of London wall, a flame appeared carried by one of the tower’s ceremonial Beefeater guards. One flame became two, then three. Civilian volunteers began lighting the others until a massive river of fire surrounded the ancient tower. Eventually, 10,000 lights filled the dry moat to honor the hundreds of thousands who fell in a war that ended a century ago.
“The flames to me represent both the kind of spirit and the energy of all those lost men but also the hope of peace,” said the tribute’s designer Tom Piper. He said the flickering flames represent something else, too: the fragile nature of peace.
“We have to safeguard our democracy even now,” he said.
The commemoration featured a soundtrack of powerful poetry that speaks of love and death, written by long-forgotten American Mary Borden, a wealthy Chicago socialite who had moved to England with her British husband.
When WWI broke out, she set up and worked at a field hospital on the front lines. There she met a British officer, who would become her second husband, and to whom she wrote the words that now complement the flames.
“You would not falter at the last my friend nor put to shame your clear courageous mind under the menace of the desolate end,” the poem reads.
“I’m totally in awe of this woman. I’m so glad the world has sort of woken up to her a little bit because too often female artists seem to vanish from history,” said Mira Calix, the sound artist who discovered Borden’s poems.
Now, like those she wrote about, Mary Borden is again part of the history of that terrible time.