To herald the beginning of a series of major First World War centenary exhibitions, thousands of shrouded figures will be stacked – one on top of another – into a free-standing wooden representation of a trench along which visitors will be able to walk.

Shrouds of the Somme, a major piece of art depicting more than 72,000 servicemen killed in Britain’s bloodiest battle, is returning to Exeter. The extraordinary artwork will be a focal point this year as the nation commemorates 100 years since the end of the First World War.


‘The Trench’ was launched at the Honourable Artillery Company, London at the end of April. These images show a section of what the trench will look like – there will be 26 of them – as well as a 1:10 scale model of the full trench. All designed and built by Shrouds artist Rob Heard.

The immersive nature of this installation will give visitors a graphic sense of what the vast numbers of those killed really means and generate incredibly powerful emotions. All 72,396 names of those British Empire servicemen killed at the Somme who have no known grave and are represented by a Shroud will be on display.

Artist Rob Heard said: “I’m thrilled that the Shrouds are returning to Exeter – the people and the Council have been incredibly supportive, right from those early days back in 2016 when we displayed the Shrouds for the first time.

The Shrouds in the original ‘Layout’ form provide dignity and attention to detail, representing the individuals who perished, which is so very important to give a scale to the loss. The Shrouds in ‘The Trench’ represent the mass loss – a much more uncomfortable and oppressive image – a huge number of people crushed together.

This is such an important message to portray: the reality is that literally thousands upon thousands of men perished together, en mass. The 72,396 represent only those with no known grave – a fraction of those who died in the whole battle. Walking through a 50 metre trench of bodies will be like nothing else.”

British Forces News report from the Honourable Artillery Company

‘The Trench’ premieres in Exeter at the end of June, sponsored by Exeter City Council. Exeter was where 19,240 Shrouds were first displayed in 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Event details can be found HERE. Liverpool is also looking to host ‘The Trench’ in October, prior to the Shrouds being laid out at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London in November.

An archive of photos and stories of the servicemen represented by the shrouds has been developed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ensuring a legacy of commemoration of these men which will continue far beyond 2018. Relatives and researchers are being encouraged to contribute their photos, memories and stories: 

Profits from the Shrouds of the Somme will be donated to SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity – providing practical, emotional and financial support to servicemen, veterans and their families in times of need for over 100 years and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation – keeping their stories alive.

The Shrouds of the Somme is an artwork of international importance to remember the missing of the Somme which will resonate around the world.

The Trench is sponsored by: