19240 Shrouds of the Somme
On July 1st 2016 we remembered those soldiers who, precisely 100 years ago, lost their lives in what has gone down in history as the bloodiest battle and the largest loss for the British Army. By the end of the first day there were 19,240 soldiers fallen; lives lost; families destroyed; futures changed forever. These 19,240 were only roughly one third of the 57,000 casualties.
By the time the Battle ended on 18th November 1916 there were over 1 million loses. Around 480,000 for the Allies and around 630,000 for the Germans.
So many of these soldiers were young; barely even into their adult lives. Some even as young as 15 and 16. It seems unthinkable doesn’t it? Children going off to fight. Leaving behind Mothers, sisters, brothers, Aunties, Grandparents. For some villages, the lives lost at the Somme meant that an entire population of men never returned home. Entire villages whose future generations would be changed immeasurably.
Rightly so, there was a good deal of media coverage of the remembrance services in France. This is something that should never be forgotten. These are people who should never be forgotten. These are lessons that need to be learnt.
In memory to these 19,240 soldiers of the first days battle Rob Heard has created this stunning visual exhibition 19240 Shrouds of the Somme.
‘Each 12 inch plastic figure in a hand-stitched shroud is liked to an Allied fatality on 1st July 1916.’
Heard had decided that he wanted to create something which would visualise the huge numbers of soldiers lost on the first day. He chose to ‘physicalise the number’.
With each figure he places in its shroud, using records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he crosses off a name. Each tiny, silent, figure is associated with the name of a soldier lost.
‘It’s vitally important that each is associated with a name, otherwise the individual gets lost in the numbers.’
And, getting lost within these vast numbers when you see the exhibition for yourself is quite what happens. A sea of white dots trails off into the distance. But you know that each dot is a life. Each dot, as you walk around the edge and see with your own eyes, is a life lost. The figures are in a number of different bodily positions but are all laid out side by side, line upon line upon line.
The number is incredibly hard to comprehend. All these lives lost. In one day.
Rob is an artist from Somerset and as such has successfully involved Exeter City Council, Exeter Chiefs Foundation and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum with his project. The exhibition has opened at Northernhay Gardens in Exeter. The fact that something so important and so significant has been exhibited in the first instance within the West Country is something to be hugely grateful for. Very often creations of this scale are bound for the capital.
We have been honoured to attend a humbling, visual experience, an emotional connection and a poignant reflection of a major moment in history, right here on our doorstep.
With my parents and Bubs, I took Twin 1 and Twin 2 to Exeter on Sunday 3rd – the exhibition is only here for 7 days – so that they could see for themselves. The gardens were peaceful, visitors courteous and the mood contemplative. With readings of the names of the fallen and with recordings of readings of famous poems gently drifting through our minds, the silent, still ghosts of those lost filled the air in the most serene way.
We made our way around the exhibition and when we arrived at the centre of the bridge, could look down and take in the full scene. I was unable to speak. That lump in my throat made it impossible. My twins are 10; I could not even imagine them in 5 years time heading off to this. I felt for all those Mothers. I felt for all those boys. I hugged my boys tight. They hugged me back.
We made our donations in the SSAFA (Soldiers Sailors Airmen and Families Association) collection and picked up a leaflet about the event. Twin 1 was astounded at how young some of the boys looked from their pictures within the handout. And he was right. So young.
We spoke of our family members who had been at the Somme during its 5 months. The Twins Great-Grandfather, on my side, had been there, not on the first day but went out in September. Their Great-Great-Grandfather, on Hubs’ side had also been there – he survived the Somme and even survived being run over by a tank there, as he was squashed into the sea of putrid mud which absorbed all the pressure. Their 3 Great-Great-Great Uncles also were sent to France to participate in this horrific battle. We are the lucky ones; our relatives survived.
And that is a sobering thought; that if they had lost their lives, our lives would never even have been a glimmer of a possibility.
For more information on this exhibition you need to visit the website:
There are more events planned to commemorate the fallen and if you get the chance to visit the Shrouds, I sincerely hope you take the opportunity to go.
The Aloha Mummy 🌸