Giant poppy created in Dukinfield takes centre stage at armed forces summit
Tuesday 8th May 2018 @ 17:34 by Tom Greggan
Dukinfield News Tameside

A giant poppy created in Tameside took pride of place at a prestigious summit attended by Armed Forces leaders and veterans.

Today’s (May 8) summit at Gorton Monastery brought leaders and members together, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, to share knowledge, experience and expertise and agree a plan on how to deliver the Armed Forces Covenant.

Signed by the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Covenant is a commitment to ensure members of the Armed Forces community receive the support they need in recognition of their dedication and sacrifice.

Elizabeth and William Stretton, from Dukinfield, made the 38ft poppy out of ripstop nylon for the centrepiece of a massive crater in France formed during the First World War.

Tameside Council leaders were so impressed that they arranged for the enduring tribute to the fallen to be displayed at the summit.

From left to right: Tameside Council Chief Executive Steven Pleasant, Tameside Council Leader Councillor Brenda Warrington, William Stretton, Elizabeth Stretton and Colonel Philip Harrison, Commander HQ Army NW.

Every year the poppy is positioned in the centre of Lochnagar crater – described as “the largest crater ever made by man in anger.”

It was formed on July 1, 1916 — the first day of the Battle of the Somme — by the detonation of a huge mine placed beneath the German front lines with the aim of destroying a strongpoint.

Richard Dunning MBE, from Guildford, bought the crater in 1978 to preserve it for posterity. It’s maintained by a group called Friends of Lochnagar, of which Elizabeth and William were members after regularly visiting the Somme. A remembrance ceremony is held on the anniversary of the explosion.

Elizabeth came up with the idea of creating a poppy to put in the bottom of the crater to mark the centenary. She designed and constructed the replica, sewn together on a domestic sewing machine in the retired couple’s guest room.

Tameside Council provided support when they needed a room large enough to lay it out to work on, allowing the use of Jubilee Hall in Dukinfield Town Hall.

It took three months to make in 2015 and was then transported to France where it’s now used every anniversary. The fully-waterproof poppy suffered wind damage and needed maintenance, so was recently brought back to Tameside to repair and strengthen it.

William and Elizabeth Stretton with the 38ft nylon poppy they made for the Lochnager crater in France.

Tameside Council Leader Councillor Brenda Warrington and Chief Executive Steven Pleasant, who is Lead Senior Officer for the Covenant and helped organise the summit, were delighted to see it take pride of place.

Cllr Warrington said: “The poppy is a poignant tribute to the fallen that creates a stunning centrepiece in the Lochnagar crater for remembrance ceremonies at the Somme. I’m pleased that Tameside Council was able to assist Mr and Mrs Stretton with its creation and maintenance.

“Before it returns to France this year, we thought it would make a wonderful backdrop to the summit at the magnificent Gorton Monastery where Armed Forces leaders, personnel and veterans could appreciate it in full view. I’d like to thank Mr and Mrs Stretton for sharing it with us.”

Mr and Mrs Stretton said: “We feel very privileged to be invited to lay the Lochnagar Poppy, our Flower of Remembrance, in the Great Nave at Gorton Monastery for the Armed Forces Covenant Conference. An appropriate venue and occasion, a fitting tribute to all those who have served, are serving, or will serve their country.

“It is our way of saying a sincere thank you to Tameside Council for the use of the Jubilee Hall on numerous occasions and for bringing the poppy’s existence to a wider and expanding audience.”

Wreaths from the Somme battlefield were also displayed with the poppy. Following the summit, the poppy will be taken to France to be laid once again in the Lochnagar Crater.