If you were in a big city in Britain on Friday, you may have been surprised to have seen groups of World War 1 soldiers at landmarks, train stations, on public transport, in parks, shopping centres & on the street.
1st July 2016 marked one hundred years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme, which killed 19,240 men in it’s first day. In the four months that the battle lasted, over one million soldiers were left wounded or killed, making it one of the most brutal battles in history. So, one century on the men who lost their lives were commemorated by being represented by some 1400 young men dressed as the solders, who were silent & unresponsive except to hand out cards with a soldier’s name on it. The only time these soldiers were not quiet was when they broke out into song with a rendition of “We’re here because we’re here” – a song sung by troops in the trenches of WW1.
It was such a simple & moving way to remember all those who gave their lives to fight for our country.
The groups, representing fifteen of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle, each traveled vast distances all over the country, including London, the North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South West, Wales, West Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber. You can see a more precise map of everywhere that was visited by the soldiers here.
In London, they walked through city markets, all around the underground, as well as visiting the West End. Members of the public were coming out of their shops to take photos; cars, vans & even bicycles were honking their horns as they drove past & people were even stopping for selfies. There was also a lunch break, were the soldiers sat in silence in parks & other areas eating sandwiches & apples wrapped in paper. People stood around them in silence, watching, taking photos & calling their friends.
The day ended in a huge finale across numerous locations. I was in London’s Victoria station to see multiple groups of soldiers join together in a huge formation to sing the song all together.The public reacted so strongly & rush hour was brought to a stand still. There were many confused adults, excitable children, a hen party (who kissed a soldier) and so, so many who were brought to tears & shared their stories. It was so moving seeing the amount of people connecting with it in such a strong way.
Throughout the day the only information anybody had about the project was that what was given to them via the cards. The hashtag #wearehere was in the top trending topics on twitter for the entire day, and it wasn’t until 7pm that evening that it was revealed to have come from Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, in collaboration with National Theatre director Rufus Norris & commissioned by 14-18 NOW.
Jeremy Deller said:
I wanted to make a comtempoary memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one that moved around the UK with an unpredictability in which the participants, by their actions, took the memorial to the public.
I was lucky enough to be part of this project, & to have worked with so many amazing people at making Jeremy’s vision come to life. Despite the 5am start & the twelve hours of walking that this weekend has left people on crutches, I was absolutely honoured to have helped and will forever be proud to have been part of this stunning piece.
‘we’re here because we’re here’
And finally, a massive thanks to our wonderful soldiers. Not only were you a privilege to work with, but I have found good friends in all of you too.