Belfast Telegraph

Somme: How ghost soldiers brought haunting images to Belfast

By David Young

Commuters across the United Kingdom were startled yesterday by the unexpected sight of silent soldiers dressed in First World War uniforms.

The event, called We're Here Because We're Here, was a UK-wide art project to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

The specially commissioned event saw approximately 1,400 volunteers in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations right across the country.

The participants walked the streets in a stark and poignant reminder of the 19,240 men who were killed on July 1, 1916 - the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed that day.

Volunteer Columb Duffy (48) walked the streets of Londonderry with 19 fellow volunteers, sparking the cherished memories of passers-by who had grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought in the First World War.

The volunteers were not allowed to speak or to engage with people they met.

"Many people were very visibly moved by the event, and the sight of the men in First World War uniforms stirred their emotions," Columb said.

"In the railway station, I sat down beside a lady and she tapped me on the shoulder and began to tell me about her grandfather, who had been at the Somme and survived.

"Then on the train to Ballymena, I was interrogated by four children.

"The children were trying to figure out what was going on. 'Are you alive? Are you a ghost? Are you going to heaven?' 'Who are you going to see in heaven?'" they asked.

"They eventually got it, and said, 'Okay, he's respecting his comrades who died, so we should respect them as well'. That was a poignant moment.

"And the children - who had just come from Donegal - gave me 53 cents, and told me: 'Here's some good luck money for your journey to heaven'."

James Wilson (18) was a volunteer in Belfast.

Describing his experiences, he said: "Many of the people we met were firstly shocked, then surprised.

"There were also some people who walked past with tears in their eyes.

"It was shocking, but also lovely at the same time."

The idea was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre.

The Playhouse Theatre and the Lyric Theatre joined arts organisations across the UK to in helping to make the innovative performance art project a reality.

Belfast Telegraph


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