Stockton's 1,245 Sunflowers commemorative project concludes in just a few days and people near and far have all been growing the golden flowers for next week’s final tribute.
This Spring, Stockton Council distributed more than 2,500 packs of sunflower seeds across the Borough, each issued with a tag bearing the name of a soldier to tie around the plant stalks as they grew.
Local resident Susan Stanley has been researching Joseph Henry Kirk, the soldier named on her sunflower tag. While on holiday in France last week, she took a special trip to Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium to pay tribute to the fallen soldier.
The Memorial bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are unknown. Susan was able to locate his name through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and place her sunflowers in tribute to the fallen soldier.
Susan said: “I was speechless by all the names on the Menin Gate memorial, there were so many of them. It was very emotional to find my soldier’s name there amongst them all but I felt proud to place our sunflowers down. I have really been taken in by the 1,245 Sunflowers Project, I even found out where Joseph lived and visited his house. I am so pleased to have been able to leave a bit of Stockton’s gold among all the red poppies. You can only imagine how it would have been back then.”
Stockton resident Irene Green, 94, has grown a number of towering sunflowers in honour of her uncle Alexander Boyd who died in battle during World War One.
She said: “I remember seeing a medal on the wall with his name when I was seven years old and I had no idea who he was. Hundreds of families were left bereaved after losing their loved ones but nobody talked about it back then. We have only just located his grave after all this time. When I heard about the 1,245 Sunflowers project I was determined to plant the flowers in my uncle’s honour and finally pay tribute to him and the huge sacrifice he made.”
Stockton’s 1,245 Sunflowers project will conclude on 4 and 5 August with a community-led tribute of music, song and lights to commemorate the start of the First World War in Britain.
Sisters Kathryn Shepherd and Jane Curnow and their families will be travelling from as far as Berkshire and Cornwall to remember their great uncles at the final tribute. John (Jack) and William Stewart from Stockton, both fought and lost their lives in World War One in 1918. The brothers’ stories have been passed down through the family and they will also be remembered at next week’s tribute.
Councillor Ken Dixon, Stockton Council’s Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure and Culture, said: “The 1,245 Sunflowers project has really engaged people from all communities across Stockton and further afield. It is an honour to hear the families’ stories of their loved ones and the concluding commemorations next week will certainly be a fitting tribute which will help to keep their memory alive.”
Families, individuals and community groups are invited to bring their cut sunflowers to the Parish Gardens in Stockton from 2 – 5 August where young volunteers will help them to display the flowers and help turn the town gold in honour of those who fought and died during the war.
The closing moving tribute will then start in the Parish Gardens at 10pm on Monday 4 August, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.
For more information on the 1,245 Sunflowers Project visit www.stockton.gov.uk/sunflowers or http://1245sunflowers.org