University community completes Poppy Pilgrimage

Members of the University of Leicester community have completed a Poppy Pilgrimage to mark 100 years since the University’s foundation as a living memorial.

Students, staff, local people and both serving and retired members of the Armed Forces have laid more than 50 poppy wreaths across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland in recognition of the local people who made sacrifices during the First World War.

The Poppy Pilgrimage, first pledged in 2018 at the dedication of Centenary Square by University patrons Sir David Attenborough and Michael Attenborough CBE, was observed with wreaths laid outside the Fielding Johnson Building by University President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Leicester Students’ Union President Rhiannon Jenkins, and University Armed Forces representative Major Ed Matts.

Fielding Johnson, named for University founding benefactor Thomas Fielding Johnson, was the first building used by Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College in 1921, and served as a military hospital during the First World War.

Professor Canagarajah said: “It is important that, while we celebrate 100 years of this institution, we also honour our founding legacy and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by many, and, in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice of all.

“We have been humbled by the support of our University community in fulfilling this most important of duties.

“We will remember them.”

Major Ed Matts said: “With an Armed Forces legacy ingrained in our history, the annual Act of Remembrance is hugely important to me, both professionally and personally.

“As we stand there in silence we remember all those affected by war, both military and civilian and in our Centenary year, ever more fitting to have the military presence of our Reserve Forces students in attendance.”

Students' Union President, Rhiannon Jenkins, and University staff Armed Forces representative, Major Ed Matts, were among those to lay wreaths outside the Fielding Johnson Building.

The red poppy, which recalls the horrors of the Western Front in the First World War, is a well-known and well-established symbol of support for the Armed Forces community and Remembrance for lives lost in all conflicts.

Some of the wreaths laid in the region included white poppies, which represent a commitment to peace and in finding non-violent solutions to conflicts.

Kerry Law, Chief Marketing & Engagement Officer at the University of Leicester, said: “Our Poppy Pilgrimage serves as a fitting tribute to the founding legacy of our University, and has allowed us to once again recognise the sacrifices made in our region.

“At the laying of each wreath, members of our community have repeated the words of University founder Dr Astley Clarke: ‘Let us, therefore, offer Higher Education as our war memorial.’

“To share such a unique connection to the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is a privilege, and something of which we are very proud.”

The University’s long-standing association with the Armed Forces are enshrined in the Armed Forces Covenant, which states that veterans should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services.

In 2020 the University was awarded Gold Award status by the Ministry of Defence for its support of the Armed Forces community, which includes partnerships with local Reserve units and permanent membership of the East Midlands Universities Combined Military Education Committee.

The University is also committed to supporting former service personnel in their transition to civilian life through schemes like the Armed Forces into Allied Health project, which simplifies the process for veterans to transfer military qualifications in order to enter health disciplines.

Explore the University of Leicester’s Centenary celebrations, and discover more about our story so far at