Band of Brothers

“ From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”

Henry V  Shakespeare

We have been to several remembrance services in our home town and visited the installation at The Tower of London- “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. This amazing and poignant work of art was created by ceramic artist Paul Cummings, with stage settings by stage designer Tom Piper. The installation was far from complete at the time of our visit and yet the effect was breathtaking. By the time of completion 888,246 poppies will have filled the entire moat, each poppy a life lost including one for my great uncle John.

On this day, a hundred years ago, my grandfather Thomas and his brother John were already enlisted as regular soldiers. As a mother of two boys I can only imagine my great grandmother’s feelings on hearing of the outbreak of WW1. John was killed at the very beginning, Thomas, a Royal Engineer, survived the entire conflict from start to finish.


Many of those who returned home safely went on to develop what is now understood to be post traumatic stress disorder, a condition little understood in those days. One of the charities to benefit from the Tower of London poppy appeal is Combat Stress who help today's veterans affected by stress. Coping with life after conflict can be extremely challenging, not only for the ex-service men and women but for their families too. Victims often suffer horrendous flashbacks, depression and character changes; fortunately charities like Combat Stress can offer help and support but need our help. You can find out more here-

Double page spread from "Can it be true?" by Susan Hill
Illustration by Valerie Greeley.

With so many references to WW1 and with thoughts about my grandfather and his brother, I found that WW1 imagery crept into my work. This illustration from “Can it be true?” could have had any number of interpretations; I saw it as a nightmare from the trenches. For me the two men represent the brothers Thomas and John. With so many disparate images to include- whales, soldiers, shrews, ferrets, stoats and a General dreaming, I choose to make the bed covers part of an undulating landscape with dreamlike waves and harpoons turning into arrows and bayonets. It was certainly the most challenging thing I have ever had to illustrate and kept me awake on more than one occasion.


  1. Valerie. I have such admiration both for your imagination and for your finished work. Beautiful and poignant.
    I know what you mean about it being impossible to imagine what it must have been like. What I also remember is that so many who survived the first world war were then finished off by the awful flu epidemic.

  2. Such a poignant post. I loved hearing how your thoughts of the poppy fields and your Uncle John crept into your illustration. The illustration is amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. I have always been haunted by The Great War.
    Two of my great-uncles died at 19 and 21...so utterly tragic and pointless. The poetry of the period - particularly Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen is deeply moving.
    What a splendid illustration. Beautifully done.
    I have only seen photos of the wonderful poppy installation. Wish I could see it in person.

  4. I would like to have seen the Bloodswept Lands display - one of the poppies is for my Great-Uncle Harry. I'm organizing a WW1 Centenary Exhibition which will be on over this weekend and on Armistice Day so I have also been immersed in WW1 for the last few weeks. Your illustration is really good - very evocative.

  5. Poignant and moving Valerie. Let us never forget.

  6. Your miniatures are beautiful, very well done.

  7. Your miniatures are beautiful, very well done.

  8. That is one of my favourite illustrations from your lovely book Valerie, and although I couldn't have known you had particular people in mind I certainly picked up the reference to WW1. It is a stunning piee of work in it's own right, and the book as a whole, well you know I'm a fan x

  9. Your illustration for "Can it be true?" touches the heart, as do the words that go along with it!

    I wished I could have visited London and seen the Tower of London's exhibition.

    Somehow I manage to miss your new posts. This one i saw by chance, I am glad I did. Good to see you posting and creating.


  10. Dear Valerie - very lovely painting and beautiful post. It is truly hard to imagine all that those soldiers and their families endured. Such a heavy price they paid so we could be free. May none of us forget. We certainly owe them so much. Have a great day.