Emotional coincidence as fallen hero inspires Tower of London-style poppy artwork in Sunderland

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FROM a four-year-old schoolboy whose cousin is a fallen hero to a Wearside woman born on the cusp of the Great War, young and old gathered to pay their respects on Armistice Day.

To mark the beginning of a minute’s silence, a lone saxophone player from St Aidan’s performed The Last Post in the school yard.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - four-year-old Kai Nathan Cuthbertson hands a rose to Virginia Acheson, 101.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - four-year-old Kai Nathan Cuthbertson hands a rose to Virginia Acheson, 101.

Among those at the remembrance service was Tom Cuthbertson whose son Nathan, 19, a former pupil at the school, was killed during a suicide bomb attack whilst on patrol in Afghanistan in 2008.

Nathan’s second cousin Kai Nathan Cuthbertson from Silksworth, who is named after the Parachute Regiment soldier, is one of hundreds of people across the city to have taken part in a Paint a Poppy project to mark 100 years since the outbreak of WW1.

The eldest to have painted a poppy, which will form part of a large scale installation, is Virginia Acheson, 101, a resident at Glenholme Care Home in Roker.

Tom, 45, who is married to Carla, said: “I shed a tear during the silence to think that just seven or eight years ago Nathan would have been stood here marking this silence and now I’m remembering him.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - four-year-old Kai Nathan Cuthbertson hands a rose to Virginia Acheson, 101.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - four-year-old Kai Nathan Cuthbertson hands a rose to Virginia Acheson, 101.

“The forces recruit heavily from the North East and the support we have had from the people of Sunderland, who have been so sympathetic, has always been so gratefully received.”

It was Private Nathan Cuthbertson who inspired artist Ian Potts to start the Paint a Poppy project which has taken place in schools, community groups and churches across Sunderland for the past year.

Friezes made up of hundreds of painted poppies were strung up around the school hall as part of a memorial service.

The artwork has been likened to a smaller-scale version of the Tower of London poppy field in London.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - the Last Post is played across the school yard as the pupils fall silent for the 'silence'.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - the Last Post is played across the school yard as the pupils fall silent for the 'silence'.

“I asked people to paint a poppy, it was as simple as that,” explained art teacher Ian. “But everybody who has painted a poppy has a connection with the war. When they start to paint a poppy, you get their dad’s story, their grandad’s story. It’s amazing what can come out of just painting a poppy.

“After a session at Mill Hill Primary School I asked the headteacher who the youngest participant had been. He checked the records and, by chance, it was Kai Cuthbertson. How fitting for a project that began with Nathan.”

Tom added: “When Ian contacted me about this I thought it was a brilliant idea. It’s been phenomenal to see all the paintings and the amount of people who have taken part.”

Kai’s mum Keelie Smith, 25, said: “The project is a great idea, the whole family got emotional when we realised it was Kai who was the youngest to take part.”

Nathan Cuthbertson

Nathan Cuthbertson

Virgina Acheson had never painted before taking part in the session. The 101-year-old said: “I always go along to watch when painters come into the home but I hadn’t painted before. I’ve enjoyed coming to the school today, it was very moving.”

St Aidan’s School pupil Tom Walker, 16, who gave a reading at the service, said: “It’s amazing to see the community come together to create such an amazing tribute to the fallen.”

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland -  remembering the sacrifice.

Armistice Day at St Aidan's RC School in Sunderland - remembering the sacrifice.