I think this is what the US declaration of war was like.
The 1st of July was the 100th anniversary of the disastrous first day of the Battle of the Somme, when nearly 20,000 British troops were killed and another 38,500 injured. On the day across the UK at railway stations and other public places people encountered men dressed in First World War uniforms, standing or sitting silent. Sometimes they marched off somewhere else, perhaps taking a train along the way. If approached the soldiers did not speak but instead handed their questioner a card giving the name and age of a soldier killed on the first day of the Somme. Occasionally they would break into song, singing “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here” to the tune of Auld Lang’s Lyne, a soldiers’ song from the Great War.
What makes this a particularly successful piece of commemorative art is that it does not tell the observer what to think. I suspect that encountering the ghost soldiers would be equally poignant whether you thought the dead of the Somme were heroes who died for our freedom or men who died pointless deaths in a war that served only the elite.
People have posted their own photographs of the soldiers on Twitter with the hashtag #wearehere . Did any readers see them in the flesh themselves?
Newcastle Upon Tyne (BBC)
London (we’re here because we’re here)
For people in Britain and Ireland the Somme is the big battle of the First World War. As the anniversary of its first day approaches there are a number of commemorative events taking place here in Dublin that readers may be interested in.
The National Library of Ireland has a number of events taking place over coming weeks. A History Ireland Hedge School on the Battle of the Somme is being hosted by the editor of that magazine on the evening of the 19th July.
For me though the particular highlight of the National Library’s events is their screenings of the 1916 film The Battle of the Somme. This was a propaganda film released in 1916 while the battle was raging, mixing documentary and staged footage. It was enormously popular on its first release, being seen by some 20 million people in the first few weeks of its release (possibly making it the most seen British film ever made). The Library will be showing it from the 11th of July. The image at the top of the page is a still from the film, taken from Wikipedia.
I also recommend the National Library’s exhibition on Ireland in the Great War.
The National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks has its own series of events relating to the Somme and the First World War. They are also organising screenings of The Battle of the Somme, on the 2nd, 9th and 23rd of July, with introductions. Re-enactors will be displaying replicas of uniforms and equipment used at the Somme.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with the Goethe-Institut, a piece of sound art called Voices of Memory by Christina Kubisch will be in the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge from 29/6/2016 to 30/9/2016. From the description, this will consist of voices reading the names of the 49,000 Irish people killed in the Great War, together with other recordings of ambient sound. The War Memorial Gardens are a place of great beauty and it is always worth having an excuse to visit them.
Finally, the Abbey Theatre is staging Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching to the Somme in August. This modern classic of Irish theatre tells the story of some Ulster soldiers who took part in the carnage of the Somme’s first day.
Ireland’s Easter Rising is the one bit of the First World War that happened in my own country. I will of course be covering it, but not until the actual anniversary of the rebellion. In the meantime, I have created an album on Flickr showing rebellion sites as they are now, together with other images of commemorative events taking place in Dublin. You can see it here.
The first is a seminar entitled Gallipoli: Perspectives on Saturday 14/11/2015 from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm. An interesting range of speakers will be talking about the Gallipoli campaign from Irish, Turkish, Australian and New Zealand perspectives.
Then on Tuesday 1/12/1915 at 7.00 pm there is a History Ireland Hedge School, at which History Ireland editor Tommy Graham will chair a panel discussion on Popular Culture and the Great War.
Booking is not required for either of these events. Readers may also be interested in the National Library’s exhibition on the Irish experience of the First World War. More details on that here.
Readers may be interested in making a trip to the cinema to see this Russell Crowe film before it disappears from the big screen. The story of an Australian father travelling to Gallipoli to search for the bodies of his dead sons might strike a cynic as sentimental hokum, but the film communicates well the horrors of war, particularly that particular bit of the First World War, as well as the human cost borne by those it leaves behind. Unlike some other war films, it looks over the hill at the Turkish soldiers who also fought and died at Gallipoli.
The film is mostly set after the First World War, when parts of Turkey were under Allied occupation and Greece was trying to expand into western Anatolia from the shores of the Aegean. One could criticise the film for its very pro-Turkish depiction of these events but it is still a vivid portrait of a chaotic time. Anyone seeing the film will also find themselves thinking about a trip to Istanbul and Turkey generally.