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.
The Shrouds of the Somme project will bring home the sheer scale of human sacrifice in the Battle of the Somme, which came to epitomise the bloodshed of the 1914-18 war.
The unique installation will also give members of the public the opportunity to take part as relatives of the dead are being invited to participate.
Shrouds of the Somme is asking 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 Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (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.
He 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 CWGC, which has made available the records of those commemorated on the Thiepval 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. 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, 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 and 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.”
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.