Blacksmiths have played a pivotal role in the development of civilisation since the Iron Age, through the development of a technology and the artefacts, tools and equipment they designed and made. They provided the means for tilling the land, reaping the crops and shoeing the horses; making tools and weapons; components for land transport and shipbuilding; ironmongery for homes and churches; and used their expertise in the development of machinery for production during the Industrial Revolution.

Mediaeval Guilds of Blacksmiths were established throughout Europe, including the Bruges Guild of Smiths in Belgium, and the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London WCB. In several European countries the craft continued to flourish throughout the twentieth century but in the UK and many other developed countries the blacksmith’s craft declined. In the UK the craft was re-born in 1978 when a number of blacksmiths formed a new group, The British Artist Blacksmiths Association – BABA – which now has links with similar associations worldwide.Twenty years later a group of Belgian blacksmiths established a similar organisation, The Belgian Guild of Blacksmiths – ASG.

In the Great War of 1914 to 1918, blacksmiths and farriers were indispensable in sustaining and maintaining the war machine. They, along with soldiers, generals, miners and medics paid a terrible price. It is against this background that the international community of blacksmiths are seeking the opportunity to gather together in Ypres, Belgium in 2016 to remember – and to recognise that remembering by building a marker – an internationally recognised icon – a Cenotaph in the form of a Flander’s Field poppy.

In September 2016, a new World War 1 Cenotaph will be created in Ypres, Belgium. It will commemorate everyone involved in the conflict, both military and civilian on all sides – all those who died, all those wounded, all those displaced – and of equal importance, their families and their communities. In the War of 1914 -1918 blacksmiths and farriers were indispensable in sustaining the war effort on all sides. In September 2016, hundreds of blacksmiths from around the world will come together in Ypres to remember all those affected by the war and to create in one week, a Cenotaph based on the internationally recognised icon, the Flanders Field Poppy. This will make a unique contribution to the many commemorative sites and structures on the Western Front, serving to commemorate all involved in and affected by the conflict.

The following letter was sent to BABA requesting support:

Dear Mr Steve Rook,

I am Luc Vandecasteele, a blacksmith from Belgium and member of ASG: Belgium Blacksmith Organisation. I live with my family – 10 miles from Ypres (Belgium). We are very interested in what happened during the First World War. We go sometimes to Ypres, to the Menin Gate to listen to the Last Post. They have sounded the Last Post every day at 8 pm since 1928, except during the Second World War.

The people from Ypres want to commemorate the British soldiers who lost their lives in Belgium. Every year we also go on the 11 November (very special and emotional). A lot of British people are present to listen to the Last Post, and to visit the military cemetries and the museums about the war. The cemeteries are very clean and ordered, to honour the soldiers. Because of them, we can live now in a nice and peaceful Europe. Starting in 2010 a special working group, under the leadership of the province of West-Flanders, Belgium will plan the remembrance of the Great War, it will start in 2014 and will go on until 2018.

Inspired by the DVD “Pillar of Friendship”, the idea arose to do something similar in order to honour the 100th anniversary of the Great War. The presence of the British Blacksmiths is very important because of the relation between the Britons and Ypres. I think it would be wonderful to forge a piece of art together, with the Belgian and British blacksmiths and also maybe other blacksmiths from all over the world . The theme could be “peace “.

I think that organising something about the 100th anniversary of the Great War could be a huge success, knowing what blacksmiths are able to do. I think of : Eastersun (Ukraine), Tree of Happiness (Ukraine), the Eucalyptus tree (Australia), Park of Figures (Donesk), Ybssitz Rose for Mr Habermann , and much more…

In 2008 we had the festivities for the 10th anniversary of the Guild of the Blacksmiths from Belgium. The Governor of the Province of West Flanders was invited to the festivities, was overwhelmed and spoke highly of the blacksmiths who were present.

In November 2009 I contacted Terrence Clark (then chairman of BABA). I spoke about my idea after I saw the DVD Pillar of Friendship, to do something together about the 2014/2018 Remembrance.

We sent an e-mail, and he said he would speak about my idea to the BABA organisation, to see if they would give us their support. In January 2010, we had a e-mail back from Terrence, saying they were interested in supporting the project. Some people made a design and after looking at all the designs, we chose the Terrence’s Poppy Sculpture.  Terrence made a maquette of the sculpture and everybody found it good.

Can BABA give their support to help, because one person, can do nothing alone…?
It looks now as if it is going to happen after the good meeting we had last week in Ypres. Now they can start to look for the money and a place for the sculpture. West Tourism will give 25000 Euro. to help.

Also VOKA (the Chamber of Commerce) give their support . They already planning to give a poppy award to different countries –  countries who want to do something about peace, starting with Norway.  It is a poppy that Terrence made for the sculpture. We are very happy with it!

Luc Vandecasteele