July 1st, 1916, marks the first day of the bloodiest World War I battle, known as the Battle of Somme. On this day, more than 57,000 British soldiers died. This number is greater than the total of British casualties in the Crimean, Boer, and Korean wars combined. A hundred years later, on July 1st, 2016, the same dark green uniforms worn during WWI were spotted in British train stations.
‘We’re here because we’re here’
In Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol and London, 1400 men dressed up as their fallen ancestors to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme. They silently sat in train stations, boarded crowded trains, smoked cigarettes, and sang powerful WWI songs. ‘We’re here because we’re here’ resonated in the deep halls, to the biggest surprise of casual commuters.
Social media such as Instragram and Twitter instantly got overwhelmed by videos and photos of this living memorial. The organisation behind this unexpected modern memorial is ’14-18 NOW’, which is dedicated to WWI centenary art commissions. Its goal is to connect people with the realities of war through unique art experiences.
Traditionally, memorials are extremely simple, involving a commemoration with statues involving the surnames of fallen soldiers. If the population wants to show respect to its ancestors, it has to go to a given site. However, it is easy to ignore it, which can be proven by the fading knowledge of the British about WWI. Indeed, the ‘Test The Nation Survey’, completed by 500 adults over the age of 18 from across the UK in 2014, shockingly revealed that 83% do not know the official dates of WWI (1914-1918). The release of the findings was part of an ongoing campaign by Leger Holidays, the UK’s leading battlefield tour provider, to encourage people to ‘Keep the Memories Alive‘.
Soldiers have a name, a face, and a voice
The modern memorial by 14-18 NOW, on the other hand, cannot be forgotten. Commuters are directly confronted with soldiers as if they were going to war. The most courageous who tried to talk to the soldiers did not receive any response: instead, they received identity cards of a soldier who died during the Battle of the Somme. This memorial is particularly moving because, for once, it shows that soldiers have a name, a face, and a voice. This memorial sheds the light on the idea that all in all, soldiers are not just names carved in a memorial rock, but human beings.