Whilst at the inaugural Defence Medical Welfare Service Rugby match, I had the massive good fortune to meet the one and only lady Yeoman, Moira Cameron. That is not a typo – she is not a noble lady with the surname Yeoman, but the only female Yeoman at the Tower of London.
I had to admit that I didn’t really know what a Yeoman did, but the delightful Moira was happy to enlighten me. She explained that Yeomen, also known as Beefeaters, were Warders in the Tower of London.
Originally prison guards, the Yeoman Warder’s position dates back to 1485. They are keepers of tradition, protectors of the Tower of London and the community that reside there and, of course, the Crown Jewels.
What she didn’t tell me, I later found out, was that to apply for the job of Yeoman, applicants had to be of a specific age, have completed at least 22 years’ service in either the Army, Royal Air Force or Royal Marines reaching the rank of Warrant Officer or Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), and have been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. This is a prestigious role and Moira is the first and only female to hold the post.
I explained that I had planned to visit the Tower of London the following day to see the amazing display of ceramic poppies, cascading down one of the Towers and filling the moat. Moira said she would be working and could meet me.
The ceramic poppies have been manufactured as part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation by artist Paul Cummins. They mark 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. 888,246 ceramic poppies have been planted in the moat of the Tower of London; one to represent each fallen British and Commonwealth solider lost in that war.
As I came up out of the tube, I was surprised by the volume of people crushing up the stairs and down the subway, but I was unprepared for the crowds that were to greet us once we had cleared the subway. The footpaths all the way around the east and south of the Tower of London were packed; the crowd was gridlocked as people tried to make their way along.
I eventually made my way to the main gate to meet Moira. As we were talking about the stunning display, she mentioned a journalist had visited and written a really moving piece about the poppies. We walked down to the moat so I could take some pictures and Moira read the final paragraph of the Daily Telegraph article by Ann Mullard.
She had written: “Somewhere in there is the special poppy I chose for Uncle George – a particularly neat flower of blazing uniform red, its central black stopper wiggled smartly into optimum position. I gave it a surreptitious kiss before easing it gently into the soft ground, wondering what he would say if he knew how well we still remember.”
I was so moved that I couldn’t help myself, but was comforted by the fact that Moira also had a lump in her throat and a tear in her eye. Seeing the sheer scale of this project, imagining that each poppy represents one lost British or Commonwealth solider was just overwhelming.
We shared a moment to recompose ourselves. If you missed the Poppies at The Tower, you can still visit poppies.hrp.org.uk/buy-apoppy and make a donation to show you still remember.
And if you go by the Tower, look out for Moira – you’ll know her if you see her. She is the only female Yeoman; tell her I said hello.
An account by Ruth Moore, Senior Welfare Advisor