Tower of London poppy to be presented to County Cavan church

By Julian Fowler

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Image caption,
Myra Curtis visiting the Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation in 2014

A ceramic poppy that formed part of an iconic display at the Tower of London is to be presented to a church in County Cavan.

Each of the 888,246 poppies from the Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation represented the death of a British and Commonwealth soldier during World War One.

William Curtis, from County Cavan, died in the Battle of the Somme.

His great niece, Myra Curtis, visited the display in 2014.

She said: "I thought it was absolutely amazing that they were going to make a poppy, hand cut a poppy for each man.

"I went over a week later, there were a lot of helpers taking down poppies and they were pulling them up out of the ground and they were putting them in boxes.

"I thought 'oh my heavens!', one of those represents my great uncle William Francis Curtis from Cavan and I have got to get one of those poppies to some way symbolically or spiritually take him back to Cavan."

Image caption,
Woodworker Bruce Switzer designed a display holder for the poppy

William Curtis was one of more than 200,000 Irish-born soldiers who served in the British Army and Navy during WW1.

He enlisted in October 1914 and served as a private in the 9th battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

He was killed on the 1 July 1916 at Thiepval Wood, a day that would end with the loss of 20,000 men.

His body was never recovered.

Ms Curtis, from County Fermanagh, said: "It's so sad that there's no grave for him but I was so compelled to get that poppy I chased after it."

Initially, she was told that all the poppies had already been allocated.

"I immediately applied again, I said I want the poppy for my great uncle William Francis Curtis and I want to present it to Arvagh Church of Ireland, the church he belonged to in Cavan.

"And a couple of weeks later, out of the blue, I got an email and I couldn't believe it, I was so pleased and so happy."

Image caption,
The poppy will be presented to the Arvagh Church of Ireland

She asked woodworker Bruce Switzer, from Kesh, County Fermanagh, to design a display for the poppy, which was inspired by Thiepval Wood.

He said: "You have the tree and the ivy growing around the tree will eventually kill it and the most poignant part then was the poppy inserted into the tree, (signifying) the death of Francis Curtis."

The Church of Ireland Rector of Arvagh, Reverend Hazel Hicks, said she is delighted that the poppy will be given to the church.

She said it was important that the sacrifice of the men from the parish had not been forgotten.

"In Cavan, 10,000 men went to war and about 1,000 lost their lives so we also remember those who came back and life was never the same again for them

Image caption,
Myra Curtis said that the poppy was like her great uncle spiritually returning home

"Things were so difficult in terms of the trauma they experienced, because of the political situation they couldn't talk about what they had experienced and it was difficult for them to find employment

"I think it's wonderful to hear their story 100 years on because their stories weren't told when they came back from war because of the political situation (in Ireland) and because of what they experienced."

Ms Curtis said most of her family had forgotten that one of their relatives had died at the Somme, but is pleased that his sacrifice will now be remembered.

She said: "I will feel that I have achieved something. He went over the top in the Somme, this is a minor thing that I have done but to me it is a duty of love.

"To me symbolically I'm taking him back to Arvagh, and in some ways spiritually I'm returning him to his home town."

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