There was a sombre air to the morning commute today as many people arrived to their tube or train station only to be met with silent soldiers in first world war military attire, who were stationed up and down the country in ticket halls, loitering on platforms and even on transport. Each represented a soldier who lost their life when the Battle of the Somme began 100 years ago today, each carrying cards of that name that they distributed silently to passers by.
The haunting presence of these soldiers across the country moved many to tears and more so to contemplate the bloody atrocity of the Somme battle before they carried on with their day. A silent human memorial to the lost lives of World War 1.
Whilst many thought that the carefully planned 'installation' was the brainchild of a clever marketing team, it has been revealed that the UK-wide event was the work of Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller.
Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, the work was conceived and created by Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, along with the 1,500 voluntary participants from 27 organisations that teamed up to execute this vast project.
Better known for his Turner Prize winning 'Lights Out Lights On' installation, Deller was very enthused by the idea of creating a moving memorial. "I wanted to make a contemporary memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one that moved around the UK with an unpredictability in which the participants took the work directly to the public."
The project was officially titled 'We're here because we're here' named after a soldiers song from the trenches that many could hear this morning being sung by the volunteers in Waterloo station and beyond.
The huge production was a feat of organisation and scale produced by The National Theatre as well as Birmingham Repertory Theatre, who worked closely with partners including: Lyric Theatre Belfast, Manchester Royal Exchange, National Theatre of Scotland, National Theatre Wales, Northern Stage, Playhouse Derry-Londonderry, Salisbury Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres and Theatre Royal Plymouth. This is first time this number of theatres have collaborated, rendering this a significant achievement for UK arts.
"This work by Jeremy Deller is a truly national piece of theatre" said National Theatre director Rufus Norris "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."
From 7am to 7pm the volunteers took to the streets in historically accurate uniforms from 15 regiments, to remind those nearby of the 19,240 men who were killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. According to the National Theatre, the idea was 'partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one'.
Whilst the event was curated and planned by theatres, the men who took to the streets were not all actors, but from a huge range of professions from sheep farmer to doctor, shop assistant to lawyer, all aged between 16-52, the age that men would have been to be able to fight.