Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is why Jeremy Deller's We Are Here project was so powerful

Remembrance isn't a competitive sport, obviously, but yesterday the news media gave too much play to the Thiepval ceremony to mark 100 years since the first day of the Somme and not enough to the astounding Jeremy Deller initiative We are here in which thousands of volunteers, dressed as members of Kitchener's Army, stood around in stations and public places up and down the country as though it were a hundred years earlier and they were waiting to embark.

If anyone asked what they were doing there they silently handed out a card bearing the name of the soldier they were, as the kids would say, "representing", all of whom died on July 1st 1916.

It wasn't just a dazzling piece of theatre and a great logistical feat. It was also a powerful reminder of the thing that strikes me every time I go to one of those cemeteries in northern France and Belgium and read the little books of remembrance in which are listed the home addresses of the dead.

The Vicarage.

Gasworks Street.

Glebe Cottage.

The Old Kent Road.

They were us.


  1. Fantastically powerful. But the coverage made it sound like a side show, although almost certainly hundreds, possibly thousands, of times more people would have seen it cf. the official ceremonies.

    It seems that if the media don't have a press release and 24 hrs notice, they can't cover it. The BBC TV news piece, with the reporter doing a piece to camera whilst strolling through the soldiers, certainly missed the point of the silent contemplation.

    It was by far the most moving thing from yesterday. Only found out it was Jeremy Dellar this morning. There have been other artists involved in the commemoration who appear to think the commissioned works were all about them.

  2. "They were us."

    They still are. Criminal shame that too few take any notice and even fewer are interested.

    I knew nothing of this and spent most of yesterday hiding from the Summer Rain, so if any of it happened here, everybody I know missed it.

  3. I saw this at Manchester Victoria station. It was uncanny how they captured the air of troops just loafing about, waiting to embark on a troop ship, or to go up the lines to the front, part listless and bored, part apprehensive.

    The fact that it was in relatively modern surroundings was quite poignant, knowing that we still seem happy to send our young men off to die in pointless conflicts.

  4. When I saw the roll at Tyne Cot memorial, where the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were memorialized, it was like hearing my school register being called. Ackroyd, Hodge, Hopkinson, (yes) Hepworth, Parkinson. Horrible.

  5. There were a few at Fenchurch Street - they looked as dazed and disorientated as the usual commuters. I wanted to take a picture, but it felt disrespectful..