Remembrance

72,396 Shrouded Figures Go On Display In Poignant Olympic Park Memorial

All money raised from the installation will go to the military charity SSAFA.

A memorial to the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme without a grave has opened in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The Somme was one of the deadliest battles of the Great War, pitting Kitchener’s volunteer army against the Imperial German Army.

One million men were killed or wounded and the bodies of over 72,000 were never found.

To represent them artist Rob Heard commissioned 72,396 ceramic figures wrapped in shrouds, each of which had to be laid out with the help of 1 Royal Anglian and volunteers.

In total the shrouds stretch out across an area of 4,400 square meters, creating a vast sea of white.

“For me personally it’s extraordinary,” said Mr Heard.

“I only ever dealt with the one in front of me, I dealt with something quite small and quite intense. So to… see them like this, I was never ready for this.

"It’s been just exceptional the way people have reacted to it.

"It’s way and above anything we could think it would [have been]. It still resonates a hundred years on.

"The subject matter is still very fresh in the public’s thinking.”

Shrouds of the Somme figures 081118 CREDIT BFBS
Three million men fought in the Battle of the Somme and a million died or were injured.

Ultimately, Mr Heard hopes the display brings home the human cost of the Somme:

“A large number of casualties is made up of individuals, it’s as simple as that.

"Now remembering these men is really important but it’s also that fact that we all learn - me very much included - that a large number is made up of individual people.”

Artist Rob Heard with 1 Royal Anglian volunteers 081118 CREDIT BFBS
Artist Rob Heard chats with volunteers from 1 Royal Anglian.

All money raised from the installation will go to the military charity SSAFA and the charity’s director, Justine Baynes, was keen to praise the project.

“When you actually stand and look here, every single person that made that ultimate sacrifice in the First World War, and particularly the Battle of the Somme, is remembered here,” she said.

“To actually see those laid out as individual little bodies is really powerful.

"We’ve had people coming here in tears, praying as they’re walking round and, actually, the poignancy of when you see the exhibition is huge.”

The installation is open to the public from 8 to 18 November.