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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To the men and boys that left home to fight for a country they believed in we salute you.
Lest we forget.
- ‘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.
*This post was commissioned by 14-18 Now. Visit www.becausewearehere.co.uk for further information