Did you see them?
The men dressed as world war one soldiers, silently making their way through towns and cities across the UK?
They were part of an unbelieveably moving tribute to the men who lost their lives at the battle of the Somme, in an event that was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, who is the Director of the National Theatre.
As part of ‘We’re here because we’re here’, 1400 volunteers dressed up in historically accurate uniforms, that were made in Poland specially for the event, each of them representing an individual soldier who was killed on the first day of the battle, 1st July 1916.
The men didn’t speak to the public at all, but they did hand out cards with details of the soldier they were representing.
I was handed several of these over the course of the day, and each one brought me closer to tears, as it showed the name and regiment of the soldier, along with the age at which they died on the first day of the Somme.
These little cards, in all their simplicity, just hit you hard.
Sometimes you see the numbers and you forget about the individual men. This brought it all down to that personal level.
These were our fathers, our sons, our brothers, our men.
The whole event was so subtle, but truly powerful.
Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, is quoted as saying,
“This work by Jeremy Deller is a truly national piece of theatre and is a powerful way to remember the men who went off to fight 100 years ago. I also hope it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen ties with theatres and communities across the UK”
The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one. And you can understand why the soldiers who were out yesterday are being referred to as ‘ghost soldiers’.
I feel so privileged to have been at Swansea train station when they first arrived in the morning, it was really quite something to witness the small groups of men arrive one after another, gathering in front of the station.
After attracting quite a crowd at the train station the soldiers started making their way across town, spreading out to visit various locations on their way to the University, before heading back towards the city centre.
Here are some of my photos from the day.
The project was called ‘we’re here because we’re here’, and the public are being encouaged to share any photos and videos they took with the hashtag #wearehere.
Every so often throughout the day the soldiers would break their silence by starting to sing ‘we’re here because we’re here’, which is a song the men used to sing in the trenches, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. This was especially moving, and brought all passers-by to a stop, and prompted several people in Swansea to shout words of thanks to the men, which was just amazing to hear.
At the end of the day all the men gathered for one big group tableau. Then they started singing, for one last time, ending in a dramatic cry that was so unexpected, so startling after the quiet of the song, it was perfect. You can watch the last song in Swansea here:
The ‘we’re here because we’re here’ project was such an amazing thing to witness, and broke new ground in terms of its scale, breadth, reach and the number of partners and participants involved.
This is the first time that so many theatres have worked together on a UK-wide participation project, and it’s quite breathtaking to know that these silent scenes were acted out in so many different towns. If you didn’t get to see any of the soldiers for yourself, then take a look at these videos which will give you an idea of how the day went.
If you want to find out more about the event then check out the hashtag #wearehere on twitter and instagram. You can also see more photos from across the UK at www.becausewearehere.co.uk.
This is a collaborative post.