Hundreds see Knitted Poppy Carpet and Women in War Sculpture revealed at Tonbridge Castle

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Last Updated: 27 Oct 2017 3:55pm

Hundreds of people gathered in the sunshine on the lawn at Tonbridge Castle on Friday 27 October as a magnificent carpet of knitted and crocheted poppies and a unique sculpture representing ‘Women in War’ were revealed to mark the launch of this year’s Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

The poppy carpet is the result of a project launched by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council with support from the Royal British Legion and Kent County Council.  The project really captured the interest of local residents and community groups who dusted off their knitting needles and donated thousands of knitted and crocheted poppies for the campaign. The carpet has been created to raise awareness of the work of the Royal British Legion at the start of their annual poppy appeal. Volunteers from the 2520 Tonbridge Squadron Royal Air Force Air Cadets, under the leadership of Pilot Officer Tom Bristow RAFVR(T), carefully attached the poppies to the backing material to form the carpet, which was rolled out in front of Tonbridge Castle on the Castle Lawn for the launch event.

The carpet is 11.11m long x 1m wide and is made up of more than seven thousand knitted and crocheted poppies. It is poignant that the length of the poppy carpet mirrors the time at which the armistice was signed to mark the end of World War 1 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

The ‘Women in War’ sculpture was created by pupils at Hillview School for Girls as part of their after-school art club project with the help of local artist Guy Portelli. Hillview teachers Cavan Pledge and Sarah Pledge and Deputy RBL Poppy Appeal Co-ordinator Pam Mills led the project, which aims to reflect on the part women have played in war, particularly as we approach the centenary of the end of WW1 next year. Many local women signed up to work with the Red Cross during WW1, others worked in the fields or took over jobs that were traditionally done by men.  The sculpture is dedicated to Margaret Waite, from Postern Farm, who joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and left to go France and Belgium to serve her country in 1914. She was awarded the Order of Leopold ll for bravery in the field, giving first aid to those on the front line trenches.

The sculpture is made up of three abstract female figures, one representing Margaret Waite of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (which is covered in red poppies) and the other two depicting ladies of the Red Cross (covered in white fabric flowers).  All the figures have skirts made of sail canvas and are built around a wooden frame.

Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling Cllr Roger Dalton welcomed visitors to the launch event alongside Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat MBE, Royal British Legion representatives Jane Ayers, Carl Lewis and Pam Mills, Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council Nicolas Heslop and Cabinet Member for Community Services Maria Heslop.  Many of those who contributed to the success of both projects were also there on the day including individuals and groups who knitted or crocheted poppies for the carpet, members of the Royal British Legion, the 2520 Tonbridge Squadron Royal Air Force Air Cadets, pupils and staff from Hillview School for Girls and artist Guy Portelli. Members of Margaret Waite’s family were also present on the day to admire the Women in War sculpture and representatives from community groups and organisations that donated funds to support the sculpture project including Kent County Council, the Women’s Institute and The Old Fire Station also attended.

Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling Cllr Roger Dalton, who visited Hillview School himself and helped the pupils to sew some poppies on to the sculpture, says: “When the carpet of knitted and crocheted poppies was rolled out in front of Tonbridge Castle alongside the Women in War sculpture it really took my breath away.  I’m so grateful to everyone who took the time to make the poppies and to the Air Cadets of the 2520 Tonbridge Squadron for the many hours they must have spent attaching them all to the backing material.  Congratulations must also go to the girls at Hillview School for producing such an impressive and thought-provoking sculpture. My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who contributed to both projects – the work of the Royal British Legion is so important and I’m delighted that we have been able to shine a light on the start of their Poppy Appeal.”

Deputy RBL Poppy Appeal Coordinator Pam Mills says: “The girls at Hillview School have worked so hard to create this beautiful Women in War sculpture.  So many women remain faceless as we seem to have forgotten the part they played but I am so pleased this sculpture is dedicated to a Margaret Waite in recognition of her work on the front line. She is a lady who won't be forgotten and I am so pleased her family were able to come along to the launch event. I’d like to say a big thank you to Guy Portelli for his design inspiration and advice and to everyone who supported the project by donating the funds that have helped to create such a lovely work of art.  The sculpture complements the poppy carpet perfectly – they both looked stunning in front of the Castle.”

The poppy and the work of the Royal British Legion are often associated with the First and Second World Wars and elderly veterans; however the charity is calling on the public to reconsider what the poppy stands for and wear it in support of the Armed Forces community, past and present.

Jane Ayers, Royal British Legion Community Fundraiser, West Kent says: “This knitted poppy carpet and Women in War sculpture is the perfect way to launch this year’s Poppy Appeal and I am so grateful to everyone who has contributed to these two amazing projects. We already recognise the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance but it also represents hope and every donation received will make a real difference to the lives of Service men and women, veterans and their loved ones.”

Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat MBE says: “I am delighted to have helped launch this year’s poppy appeal in such an innovative way. This shows our town at its very best and I’m grateful to everyone who has helped contribute to this, particularly the girls from Hillview. This time of year we rightly remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country and this is a fitting tribute.”

The Borough Council is also very grateful to volunteers from The Old Fire Station for providing refreshments after the launch event.

The knitted poppy carpet will be displayed in the Tonbridge Gateway until Sunday 5 November and then in the reception area at the Borough Council’s Kings Hill offices from Monday 6 November.  On Remembrance Day (Sunday 12 November) the carpet will be displayed at the RBLI Gardens in Aylesford during their Remembrance Day service.

The Women in War sculpture will remain on display within the grounds (near the Cannon Lawn) of Tonbridge Castle until after Remembrance Day.

The knitted poppy campaign was successfully trialled last year by Gravesham Borough Council and was expanded to a Kent-wide project this year with several councils across the county launching similar knitted poppy projects to help raise awareness of this year’s RBL poppy appeal and commemorate Remembrance Day.