Anderton Boat Lift poppy cascade in remembrance
To commemorate the ‘forgotten’ waterway men of WWI, Cheshire’s Anderton Boat Lift, part of the Canal & River Trust Charity, released a cascade of 100,000 poppy petals from its 50ft high lift at 11am on Sunday 11 November. Royal British Legion petals, were released from the Lift, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ into the River Weaver by member of waterways staff and Canal & River Trust Charity volunteers. Hundreds of members of the public paid their respects as did crews from historic narrowboats – the ‘Effingham’ and the ‘Sweden’* as well as the Daniel Adamson steam ship, the oldest operational Mersey-built boat in the world.
At the time of WWI there estimated to be 10,000 waterway men in the county and at the beginning of the war they were an important reserve occupation. But by 1916, all unmarried boatmen under the age of 25 were eligible for call up. Many went into the Royal Engineers where they were used as boatmen to ferry troops via the inland waterways leading to the British sector – the Pas de Calais to Ypres and the River Somme from the Channel coast to Peronne. It is recorded that they were also in considerable demand in Mesopotamia, where their skills and expertise on the waterways were used to keep water-based supply lines on the move, as well as being a part of amphibious attacks from rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates.
Graham Boxer, Head of the Canal & River Trust’s National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, said: “Hundreds of waterway men who died in WWI are likely to have been ‘forgotten’ because their itinerant lives – moving cargo up and down Britain’s waterways – meant they were not official residents of the towns and cities where memorials were built.
“Most boat yards had no formal register of employees who failed to return from WWI. This seems heartless, but it must be remembered that the immediate post-war period was traumatic with many people coming to terms with having lost close relatives. Employers may simply have been unsure whether waterway men had died or moved to take advantage of better paid post-war jobs.”
Before the poppy cascade and the bugle salute, Andrew Fielding, Boatmaster at the Anderton Boat Lift read out ‘In Flanders Field’, ‘For the Fallen’ and ‘Hospital Barge’ by Wilfred Owen (former resident of Birkenhead). In his poem, Wilfred Owen immortalised the barges that were used to transport wounded away from the battlefront – just the sort of craft being manned by Britain’s waterway men.
Timothy Turner, General Manager, Anderton Boat Lift, said: “The poppy cascade was a poignant tribute to unknown waterway men lost in WWI. We are grateful to the hundreds of people who took the time to come along to listen to the poignant readings and who brought narrowboats and ships to help commemorate these brave men. It is humbling to think of the sacrifices they made in inhospitable and foreign waters, far from home.”
Sue Cawson, historic narrowboat owner, said: “The ‘Effingham’ and ‘Sweden’ historic narrowboats paid their respects to the waterway men of WWI on behalf of local Cheshire boatmen as well as waterway men and women across the country. The Anderton Boat Lift was a spectacular and fitting place to hold this poignant commemoration.”