Bristol Cathedral hosted the breathtaking ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ during a week which marked both Armistice Day and the end of the Battle of the Somme.
19,240 hand-stitched shrouded figures each representing a serviceman of the British Empire who died on the first day of the Somme were laid out on College Green in the centre of Bristol. 80,000 visitors came to see the shrouds, including one couple who travelled 250 miles from North Yorkshire having seen it on the news.
The sight of so many ‘bodies’ was overwhelming and moved many to tears. Names of the 19,240 were listed on boards along with the names of 53,000 others killed at the Somme – one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Somerset artist Rob Heard who took three years to complete the shrouds said, “the response from the public has been incredible. I really feel this brings home the scale of the loss to people, but still represents each soldier as an individual – something which is so important to relatives, even several generations on.”
The project relied heavily on support from 6 Rifles, Bristol Port Authority and BT Openreach who provided volunteers throughout. Over £16,000 was raised for the Bristol branch of SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity which supports servicemen, veterans and their families in times of need.
Rob hasn’t finished yet – he plans to create a shroud for each of the 72,246 British servicemen killed at the Somme whose bodies were never recovered, “in some small way I would like to bring them home,” he says. Provided he can find the funding, Rob hopes to complete this enormous challenge in time to display the shrouds in November 2018 to mark the Centenary of Armistice Day. “It would be like nothing else – quarter of a kilometer of bodies laid out in rows, hopefully somewhere central where it will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, reminding them of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”