#WeAreHere an event to mark the centenary of The Battle of the Somme

A man accepts a card from one of the soldiers on it is the name, rank and age of the soldier when he died

This job of mine is a funny one; some days I’ll get emails with ‘free high-res images’ of chocolates (lucky me) other days I’ll be sent for lunch with celebrities. and once in a blue moon, an incredible and unmissable opportunity will come my way. A couple of weeks ago an intriguing proposition turned into perhaps one of the most momentous events I’ve ever been – or will ever be – involved in.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.-For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon

On 1 July 2016, thousands of volunteers took part in a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. ‘we’re here because we’re here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

Group of men dressed as soldiers to commemorate The Battle of the Somme

A man dressed as a WW1 soldier form the battle of the Somme stands in the middle o f a packed shopping centre in Bristol

I was there to follow the action and photograph the event.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect having never been involved with or experienced contemporary art like this. Seeing the lads dressed as soldiers, mingling with members of the public was as awe-inspiring as it was breathtaking. Watching the silent exchange take place between soldier and onlooker was incredibly moving.

Once the passers-by realised what they were seeing, what the soldiers were doing and who they represented there was this almost indescribable knowing feeling that hung heavy in the air and although the soldiers were reticent no words were needed. Just a mutual understanding that something extraordinarily special was unfolding.

People were literally stopped in their tracks and whilst some paused to reflect, many took the time to have a moment of quiet prayer and I saw tears rolling down cheeks a number of times throughout the day.

Perhaps the most poignant and true goosebump moments of the day being when the men intermittently broke silence to sing the words “we’re here because we’re here” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

A spectator having a moment of prayer watching soldiers dressed in WW1 uniform walk the streets of Bristol

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I think what really affected me was looking at the young faces of some of the guys involved, they looked so boy-like, so young and full of an innocence that the mother in me recognises immediately, and yet it was faces exactly like these that joined the war effort  and never came home. Faces that will have witnessed the dreadful horror of war and seeing things that no one should ever see.

The mother in me weeps for those faces.

A young ma stands on the waterfront commemorating the battle of the somme

I think of all the mothers that had once scooped up these boys as small children never imagining their fate, only to be left empty-armed and broken hearted and changed forever. I can not even begin to imagine the devastation.

A young man dressed in WW1 uniform to commemorate the Battle of the Somme

A young man dressed as a soldier leans against a red telephone box. The soldiers each depict a man that lost their life in the Battle of the Somme.

My eldest son turned 17 last week. I can tell you I held him a little closer, a little longer, when I embraced him last night. To think that soldiers the same age as my boy, some even younger went and fought on the frontline is inconceivable.

A young man dressed as a soldier to commemorate the battle of the Somme sits silently on a bench on Bristol’s waterfront

The soldiers offered cards each printed with the name, rank, and age of the soldier they represented. The men and boys that lost their lives on that fateful day and ensuing battle one hundred years ago. Some 19,240 lives were lost on the first day and over the course of the next 141 days, more than a million men became casualties making The Battle of the Somme one of the bloodiest in the military’s history.

An older man inspects a card handed to him from one of the soldiers dressed to commeorate the solders who lost their lives in the battle of the somme

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Outside the BRI the young lad dressed as a soldier to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme

Throughout the day I experienced a range of emotions but mostly just sadness at the thought of those that went away and never returned. Men who were gunned down or blown up within minutes of setting foot on the battleground. I feel this modern memorial is the best conceived public art initiative and it will go down in history for affecting so many; young and old, from all walks of life. I am truly honoured, privileged and humbled to have been a small part of it all.

A group of men dressed as soldiers that fought and lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme

I’d also like to take the time to congratulate 14-18 Now for pulling together an event with such impeccable timing that we’ve never seen the likes of before and doubt we ever will again. I positively cheer them for not publicising this before hand as this ensured it was authentic, organic and all the more poignant. Jeremy Deller and Rufus Norris had an idea and were brave enough to run with it and what a huge success it was. All of the actors stayed in ghost-like character for the entire time which was amazing to witness and made it all appear so real. My life is completely enriched because of creatives like this – thank you on behalf of myself and everyone spectating we were all so touched by what we experienced.

It felt like history in the making and I will remember it, always.

A man salutes the soldiers saying ‘I was a soldier once, you know”

“I was a soldier once, you know” this chap was thrilled to see the men in uniform and told us it brought back many memories from when he was a serviceman.

This was a ground-breaking event in terms of scale, breadth, reach and the sheer number of participants involved and we have been left with an incredible digital testament to yesterday’s events, a massive amount of shares on social media due to the #WeAreHere hashtag trending throughout the day and the amazing press and news coverage it received.

Bravo.

To the men and boys that left home to fight for a country they believed in we salute you.

Lest we forget.

***

About ‘we’re here because we’re here’

  • ‘we’re here because we’re here’ saw around 1400 voluntary participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK.
  • Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed on that day one hundred years before.
  • The participants wore historically accurate uniforms, representing 15 of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle.
  • The soldiers did not speak, but at points throughout the day would sing the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’, which was sung in the trenches during the First World War.
  • The daylong work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the width and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Plymouth.
  • The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one.


Soldiers walking the streets of Bristol #WeAreHere

*This post was commissioned by 14-18 Now. Visit www.becausewearehere.co.uk for further information

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Comments

  • Leigh - Headspace Perspective

    Written on 2nd July 2016

    Reply

    Wow, Amy. I watched this unfold on TV and on social media and wish I could have witnessed it in person. What a way to make the Somme and the sacrifice these countless young men made come alive, be relevant today, and not just a dusty part of history. They were people with hopes and dreams and friends and family just like us. Very emotive, very special. What a privilege to have been involved xxx
    Leigh – Headspace Perspective recently posted…Starting the Day with Sun SalutationsMy Profile

  • You Baby Me Mummy

    Written on 3rd July 2016

    Reply

    Totally amazing! Your photos are brilliant. What an amazing historic initiative to be part of. You’re right you never know what’s going to land in your inbox, but this my dear is one of the best and they definitely got the best photographer with you! So proud huni xxxxx
    You Baby Me Mummy recently posted…My Sunday Photo 3rd JulyMy Profile

  • Photographers Around

    Written on 5th July 2016

    Reply

    Such a great event, we are so glad that you had the chance to attend it and share with us what you have saw and photographed there! You have such an eye for all details and your photos share so much emotion and stories, thank you for sharing!

  • Cheryl @ ReimerandRuby

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    Those faces young and old are all heroes in my view! We are lucky to have those men brave and selfless enough to fight for the country. Well captured… beautiful photos! #TheList
    Cheryl @ ReimerandRuby recently posted…Highlights of JuneMy Profile

  • Helen

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    Absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I read this and got to see all your photos. It has given me goosebumps. What a wonderful way to remember. Thank you x #TheList

  • Mess and Merlot

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    I had heard about this on the news and though it was such a beautiful idea. A really powerful way to remember all those who’s lives were lost so long ago. I thought your post portrayed the event so well, not being able to witness it, your photos and words described it so well. Thank you x #TheList
    Mess and Merlot recently posted…Carry on Blogging!My Profile

  • Emma T

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    It was a beautiful piece of work and as you say so poignant. My eldest nephew like your son is 17, and I can’t imagine a child of that age going to war. He still seems so young even though he’s working as an apprentice while he studies.

    Your photos are a beautiful representation, it feels so striking seeing the old uniforms in the contemporary town setting. And your words really express how you feel on seeing them.
    Emma T recently posted…The Oxfordshire Cook Book for food and local loversMy Profile

  • Mackenzie Glanville

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    My Grandfathers fought in World War 2 and seeing this really touched me, I can see what you mean by holding your son closer, my sisters son is 16 now and I am very close to him, he is growing up, but is still so very very young. These boys that fought were abbeys really. Such horror to witness at such a young age, so sad. #Thelist
    Mackenzie Glanville recently posted…My wallpapering experience was not what I expectedMy Profile

  • Lace

    Written on 8th July 2016

    Reply

    Wow, what an incredible event to hold and to be a part of. Your photographs are so full of the emotion you also spoke of. I too am a mother of a boy and can imagine I would’ve held on just as long as you had that evening. Thank you for sharing. X, Lace #thelist

  • Carol Cameleon

    Written on 11th July 2016

    Reply

    Goosebumps everywhere, tears filling my eyes… Amy this is just astoundingly poignant and I feel proud to be reading it. Because reading it makes me a part of it and reading it makes me stop what I’m doing,and remember this awful time. Lest we forget indeed. #TheList
    Carol Cameleon recently posted…How to use hashtags to promote yourselfMy Profile

  • wendy

    Written on 13th July 2016

    Reply

    Wow Amy, your photographs are amazing and you have really captured the mood of the event with both tour images and your words xx #TheList

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