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.
This was a commemorative artwork, we’re here because we’re here
, created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, under the auspices of 14-18 NOW
, a programme of First World War related arts events. Living in Dublin I did not see any of the ghost soldiers myself (though they were to be seen in various locations in Northern Ireland, where the British Army has a complicated relationship to the local community). The work strikes me as deeply moving, the presence of the uniformed men reminding us of the war’s cost in ended or blighted lives.
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?
we’re here because we’re here
Artists behind ‘ghost soldiers’ project revealed (BBC)
#Wearehere: Somme tribute revealed as Jeremy Deller work (Guardian)
Newcastle Upon Tyne (BBC)
London (we’re here because we’re here)