In early summer of 2016 by happy chance, I stumbled across a request for volunteers at the forthcoming Weeping Window: Poppies exhibition at the Black Watch Castle and Museum; I was thrilled. I had seen the poppies on television, but didn’t to London to see them at the Tower; didn’t even manage to buy a poppy on-line. Now they were coming to Perth and volunteers were required! “I can do that,” I thought. “I can be a Poppy Partner!”
In spite of the training provided for the team, I found my first stint as a Poppy Partner (Sunday afternoons in case you were wondering) confusing. We had appropriate sound effects from the Game Fair at Scone Palace! Nobody asked any of the questions we had been primed about. Instead they asked impossible ones about the renovation works in 2012/13 of which I knew nothing needless to say; or whether they could see so-and-so who worked at the museum.
My default position with impossible questions was to advise visitors to ask Museum staff in the shop. Some visitors who had long-standing connections with The Black Watch or the museum were able to help me! In the beginning I felt my Poppy Partner T-shirt should’ve read “Sorry, I can’t help you!” Other visitors were even more confused than me, on one occasion asking for tickets to the Highland Games, which were taking place on the North Inch. Glad to say I was able to redirect them to the right location. Fortunately, the Museum staff recognised this and organised tours of the museum for the Poppy Partners and put up poppy arrows inside and outside the museum to direct visitors to the different parts of the exhibition.
I took a little tour of all the elements of the poppies exhibition and the more I learnt, the more things improved. I was able to answer questions and actually help, taking photos of family groups in front of the poppies or minding dogs and bikes while their owners went in through the turret to see the room of remembrance and the video room with the wall of messages to a soldier.
The visitors were extraordinary. They came from all over Scotland and all over the world. Some came with purpose, to remember and reflect; others came by accident or out of curiosity. Some had seen the poppies in London, and Kirkwall and were planning to follow them around the UK. Some were frequent visitors both to the museum and to the poppies; for others it was their only opportunity before they returned to their distant homes. All were impressed. One older gentleman came with souvenirs of his ancestor who had fought in WW1. They were beautifully presented in a case and included the soldier’s last ration of black bread. Another, with a wicked sense of humour and a cherubic smile, earnestly assured me on his way out, that the museum staff had said he could have his donation back! In truth, the generosity of the visitors was overwhelming.
This summer will have long-lasting memories for me: from the opening ceremony in June with the children from Kinnoull Primary School singing songs from WWI to the terrible beauty of the poppies that seemed to grow with each Sunday I spent in their company. Soon the poppies will be gone. I shall miss them.
Colette, Poppy Partner