A MAJOR piece of art, depicting more than 72,000 servicemen killed in Britain’s bloodiest battle, will form a focal point as the nation commemorates 100 years since the end of the First World War, it was announced today, 10th November.
The ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ project will bring home the sheer scale of human sacrifice in the battle that came to epitomise the bloodshed of the 1914-18 war – the Battle of the Somme.
This unique and thought-provoking project will also give members of the public the opportunity to take part as a plea goes out for relatives of the dead to participate.
From today, 10th November, Shrouds of the Somme will ‘Ask the Nation’ to search their family archives for pictures and details of those who died during the Battle of the Somme and are commemorated on the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world – The CWGC Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in France.
Somerset artist Rob Heard has had the painstaking task of making more than 72,000 hand-stitched shrouds, each wrapped around a 12-inch figure, one for each of the servicemen who were killed in the Somme but have no known grave.
Artist Rob said; “I tried to count out loud the number killed in just one day at the Somme, but ran out of steam at about 1,500. As I go through the process of putting the figure within the shroud, I cross a name off. It’s vitally important that each is associated with a name, otherwise the individual gets lost in the numbers.”
The project has teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which built and cares for this iconic memorial to the 72,000 missing of the Somme – men who died during the battle and whom the fortune of war denied a known grave. The CWGC has made available the records of those commemorated on the memorial and created a permanent digital archive to store the public’s contributions. Members of the public will be able to upload their own photographs and stories of these men to the digital archive via the Shrouds of the Somme website.
Throughout 2018 Shrouds of the Somme will play a central role as the commemorations of the 100th anniversary go nationwide and culminate in the landmark Armistice Day on 11 November.
As the anniversary approaches, each shroud will be laid out at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and displayed in what will be an unprecedented piece of public commemorative art. The scale of the sacrifices will be laid bare as the small figures fill more than 5,000 square metres on show for members of the public to pay their respects.
Speaking as the Shrouds of the Somme was officially launched today, Project Chairman Cdre Jake Moores OBE DL appealed for members of the public to get involved. He said; “Remembering those thousands who fell as individual men is crucial to honouring their sacrifice – but so little is known about so many of them.
“We are calling out to the nation. Asking them to send us photos and stories of these remarkable men – these fathers, husbands, brothers.
“Tell us who they were, where they were from, what they did – make them real, give them dignity. Bringing the individual to the forefront of these unimaginable numbers will help the nation to truly understand the scale of the loss of those who gave their all.”
Liz Woodfield, the CWGC’s Director of Information and Communications, said: “We are delighted to support Shrouds of the Somme. Our memorial at Thiepval is an awe-inspiring sight. Designed by the great architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and described as the absolute, ultimate pure monument, Thiepval was the practical and artistic response to the loss of so many men with no known grave in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.”
“Each year, tens of thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to Thiepval. Some come out of curiosity, others to see a particular name, but all depart moved by the experience.”
“This initiative will put a human face to the names engraved in stone and will help future generations discover and cherish the stories of those who gave their today for all our tomorrows.”
Although Shrouds of the Somme is aimed at creating a visual memorial in the 100th anniversary year of the end of the First World War, it will also act as a rallying point for public donations to military charities still supporting the veterans of today, such as SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.
Lt Gen Sir Andrew Gregory KBE CB, CEO of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, commented: “SSAFA is proud to be working with those creating the ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ installation. The poignancy of this spectacle is immense; to represent 72,396 of the servicemen who gave their lives during the Battle of the Somme demonstrates the scale of their sacrifice. We must never forget that their service, and the service of all those in our Armed Forces, brings us the freedoms that we now enjoy. SSAFA was supporting service men and women, veterans and their families throughout the First World War and continues to provide that assistance today; your support to our work, through ‘Shrouds of the Somme’, is greatly appreciated.”
David Goldstone, Chief Executive Officer of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, said: “We are proud to support the Shrouds of the Somme project and to honour the many thousands who did not return from the Somme. The sight of more than 72,000 figures laid out in the Park in November 2018 is sure to be a humbling and thought-provoking sight.”
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