Many people are aware of the extraordinary loss of life during World War I in the Somme campaign; over 1 million men died and a further 300,000 were wounded. Few know that the bodies of 72,396 of the British servicemen who died there were never recovered or marked with individual graves; their remains lying under the fields where the battle was fought and their only collective commemoration the memorial at Thiepval.
The Shrouds of the Somme project aims to mark their sacrifice with an extraordinary display of 72,396 12 inch shrouded figures, all created by one artist and laid out in rows, shoulder to shoulder, in London in November 2018 – the Centenary of the 1918 Armistice.
The artist Rob Heard originally stitched a smaller display – of 19,240 shrouds commemorating the same number of British soldiers who died on the first day of the Somme campaign, which was mounted in Exeter and Bristol in August 2016 to mark the centenary of the start of the campaign in 1916. The display was top of the BBC National News on Armistice Day 2016 and was viewed by 14 million people around the world through social media. We anticipate this new tribute will rival the emotive impact of the poppies at the Tower of London in 2014.
Speaking to Centenary News last year, Rob Heard said: “If by making a shroud for each one, I can in a small way bring them home, it should be done.”
The larger November 2018 display will work with schools and engage children in projects to research the impact of World War I on their local communities, and the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War facility will be used to create a record archive of the 72,396 unrecognised servicemen. The project has the enthusiastic support of The Lord Lieutenant of London Kenneth Olisa OBE and Assistant Chief of the General Staff Major General Nick Welch OBE. Following the display, the figures will be sold to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.
The aim is to display the exhibition in London in November 2018. See Shrouds of the Somme for full details, and to donate to the project.