For the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, 72,396 individually hand-stitched shrouds will be laid out at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, as this visualisation shows (Image © Shrouds of the Somme)

Update on Shrouds of the Somme & 'The Trench'

Posted on on 15 May 2018
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A trench formed of shrouded figures, each representing a First World War soldier who has no known grave, is the latest tribute from Shrouds of the Somme creator Rob Heard, ahead of a display marking the Armistice Centenary.

Standing more than two metres high, The Trench will open to the public in Exeter on June 30, marking a return to the cathedral city in England’s West Country where the shrouds first appeared in 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme.

What started as Rob Heard’s personal tribute, visualising the loss of the 19,240 British and Commonwealth troops who fell on the first day of the Somme, has grown into a wider project to honour all of the missing named on the Thiepval Memorial.

The Somerset artist is now more than half way through hand-stitching calico shrouds for 72,396 individually shaped figurines, each commemorating a soldier whose body was never recovered from the battlefields of the Somme. 

In November, they will be laid out in rows at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home of the 2012 Olympic Games, to mark the 2018 Centenary of the armistice that ended the Great War.

For the return to Exeter in the summer, Shrouds of the Somme is to break with the 'shoulder-to-shoulder' layout seen in the city two years ago, and also at a later exhibition in Bristol in 2016. 

Shrouds stacked in four full-size sections of The Trench at the launch event at the Honourable Artillery Company, London in April 2018 – there will be 26 of these sections in all (Photo © Shrouds of the Somme)

The Trench deliberately represents a 'more uncomfortable and oppressive image' of mass loss. Visitors will walk past thousands of shrouded figures stacked along the 2.3 metre high free-standing structure.

For artist Rob Heard, this is an important message.

"The reality is that literally thousands upon thousands of men perished together, en masse," he explains. "The 72,396 represent only those with no known grave - a fraction of those who died in the whole battle."

Shrouds of the Somme - in figures
*Total time to stitch and bind all the shrouds will be around 15,000 hours. More than 1.6 million stitches are required.
*Materials used: 5,142 metres of calico, 84,000 metres of thread, 
*The shrouds will fill 4000 square metres at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
*Each figure is 30cm long. Laid out end to end, they would stretch 22.1km
*Altogether, the shrouds will weigh nearly eight tonnes

A close-up view of The Trench (Photo © Shrouds of the Somme)

Every soldier’s name will be displayed on panels along the external walls of The Trench, part of a co-venture with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A digital archive is being created, with the aim of putting faces and stories to the names.

The aim - to ensure a legacy of commemoration continues for these men far beyond 2018.  To achieve this, descendants and others are encouraged to contribute photos and biographical details to Stories From the Thiepval Memorial, on the CWGC website.

Shrouds of the Somme is also working with CWGC, University College London and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park park to engage thousands of schoolchildren in the project, widening their understanding of WW1.

The shrouds themselves are being sold, with the profits being donated to the UK armed forces’ charity SSAFA and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, a new charity founded by CWGC in its 2017 centenary year to promote remembrance more widely, particularly among young people.

Shrouds of the Somme - Future Dates
*June 8-10: Salisbury Cathedral: 1,561 Shrouds laid out in the Cloisters Garth, one for each day of WW1
*June 30 - July 8: Exeter: The Trench installed at Northernhay Gardens

*August 23-September 16, Belfast City Hall: 3,762 figures will be laid in the Garden of Remembrance, representing soldiers of the Ulster and Irish regiments, or from Belfast, who have no known grave and whose names are on the Thiepval Memorial.

*November 8-18: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London:  All 72,396 shrouds laid out to mark the Centenary of the Armistice

General Lord Richards, a former head of Britain's armed forces, says: "Shrouds of the Somme is a particularly evocative part of this year's commemorations marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Giving visual scale to the numbers of lives lost will help us to appreciate the sacrifice made by very many brave servicemen and women. The Shrouds are a hugely powerful symbol of those who so selflessly gave their today for our tomorrow."

Centenary News visited Shrouds of the Somme  at Bristol Cathedral in November 2016.

Information & images: Shrouds of the Somme; Centenary News (Bristol)

Posted by: CN Editorial Team