A TAMESIDE couple have created an eye-catching giant poppy that serves as an enduring tribute to the fallen.
Elizabeth and William Stretton, from Dukinfield, made the 38ft replica out of ripstop nylon to take pride of place in a massive crater in France formed during the First World War.
Tameside Council provided support when they needed a room large enough to lay it out to work on, allowing the use of Jubilee Hall in Dukinfield Town Hall.
Every year the poppy is positioned in the centre of Lochnagar crater - described as “the largest crater ever made by man in anger.”
It was formed on July 1, 1916 — the first day of the Battle of the Somme — by the detonation of a huge mine placed beneath the German front lines with the aim of destroying a strongpoint. Tunnellers dug a shaft about 90 feet down then excavated 300 yards across before placing 60,000lbs (27 tonnes) of explosives into two underground chambers. Debris was flung almost a mile into the air.
Richard Dunning MBE, from Guildford, bought the crater in 1978 to preserve it for posterity.
He describes it as an “awesome sight” that demonstrates “the fearsome power and destruction of modern warfare.”
He adds: “I believe that that war especially was a stain on mankind and in some small way, Lochnagar, whilst remaining a vast, open wound on the battlefield, symbolises the eternal pain, loss and sorrow of millions of grieving people throughout Europe. A lost generation of good, gifted and innovative young men whose loss we still feel today.”
It’s maintained by a group called Friends of Lochnagar, of which Elizabeth and William were members after regularly visiting the Somme.
A remembrance ceremony is held on the anniversary of the explosion, attended by up to 1,000 people. More than 60 wreaths are laid, commemorating all those who fell and all who suffered during the war, and children scatter petals into the crater.
Elizabeth came up with the idea of creating a poppy to put in the bottom of the crater to mark the centenary. She designed and constructed the poppy, sewn together on a domestic sewing machine in the retired couple’s guest room.
Jubilee Hall was the largest indoor space they could find to finish what’s become a labour of love.
Elizabeth said: “Without Tameside Council’s help in providing this facility to lay it out, I don’t know what we would have done.”
It took three months to make in 2015 and was then transported to France where it’s now used every anniversary. It was featured on footage of the Tour de France 2015 when the cyclists passed by.
The fully-waterproof poppy suffered wind damage and needed maintenance, so was recently brought back to Tameside to repair and strengthen it. Jubilee Hall was again used.
Elizabeth said: “It was a gift to Richard for the centenary to make it special. I feel I have done him proud and it was a fitting memorial to mark the anniversary.
“Richard had the vision to preserve that area otherwise it would have been filled in. He wanted to preserve something that was significant. The Battle of the Somme was the worst day ever in the history of the British army. The losses were horrendous.”
William added: “I stand Richard Dunning on a very high pedestal. We think that what he did, to preserve the memory of all the troops that fell in that area, is truly magnificent.”
More than 200,000 people visit the site, beside the village of La Boisselle, every year.
And the crater has another connection to Tameside with the couple collecting old wreaths laid there, that were due to be disposed of, and designating one to the Men of Dukinfield and another to the late Rev Dennis Thomas, the former vicar of St Mark and St Luke’s in Dukinfield who conducted the Remembrance ceremony at Dukinfield War Memorial. Rev Thomas’ son Simon has also provided use of his lounge to help with repairing the poppy.
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