One hundred years’ ago today, the Battle of the Somme – one of the Great War’s bloodiest battles – ended, having begun on 1 July 1916. On the first day alone almost 20,000 British soldiers died.
To mark its centenary, an art installation memorial, 19240 Shrouds of the Somme, re-imagined the physical reality of the losses on the day the battle began. Laid out in rows on the grass of Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, were 19,240 twelve inch figures in shrouds. Each figure represented a British soldier killed on the first day of battle. It brought home an idea of the scale of the carnage to our 21st century eyes. It was almost beyond belief.
The men the figures represented gave their lives for King and Country, but the impact went far beyond the battlefield. Each soldier’s loss was felt by a particular loved one and then by a family unit back home. Then, as the full horror gradually emerged, this sense of loss spread and spread until it sliced a deep wound in our nation’s collective psyche that perhaps will never fully heal.
Even a century later, the name The Somme, still stirs a visceral horror in our hearts. It continues to echo down the decades and retains the power to move us.
Photographs by Susan Hughes
WWI Centenary. Lest we forget.