Richard Oliff: Those who have no grave but the sea

A service at Tower Hill Memorial, London
A service at Tower Hill Memorial, London

This week we once again wear our poppies and simply pay homage: we remember.

This centenary, which marks the outbreak of the First World War, is an important landmark in the lives of the millions of people whose relatives took up arms in the name of God, King and country when the killing began in 1914.

The poppy fields, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins which have been replicated at the Tower of London, will have been visited by an estimated four million people by the time you read these words.

It is work that represents the lost lives of service personnel during what became called simply the World War, or Great War, almost from its outset.

For my part I shall consign my thoughts, thanks and respect through the life and death of a young man it would have been impossible for me to meet, yet, purely through family connection, and my research for a book about his existence and subsequent demise, has drawn me closer to this catastrophic place in history.

Just opposite the Tower of London is another memorial. It’s not the Cenotaph and if one were to blink it would be easy to miss it altogether.

Yet it is a place of equal significance to those with the need to remember and give thanks.

This is the Tower Hill Memorial, commemorating those from the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during both world wars and have “no grave but the sea”. The memorial takes the form of a large vaulted corridor containing 12 bronze plaques engraved with 12,000 names.

It is here one will find the name of my great-uncle William Duncan Dick Nimmo, who died on Friday, August 13, 1915, when HMT the Royal Edward was torpedoed by a German submarine.