Poignant event to mark First World War centenary to come to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:48 22 January 2018
More than 72,000 small shrouded figures are set to be laid out in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this year to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.
The Shrouds of the Somme event will feature 72,396 shrouded figures, each 12 inches tall, laid out in rows on the South Park lawn, near to the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Each figure, wrapped in a hand-stitched shroud, will represent a British serviceman killed at the Battle of the Somme who has no known grave.
The poignant project is the branchild of artist Rob Heard, who got thinking about military fatalities in history while recovering from a car crash in 2013.
“I tried to count out loud the number killed in just one day at the Somme, but ran out of steam at about 1,500,” he said.
He realised he needed to ‘physicalise’ the number.
Each of the figures is linked to someone killed at the Somme, using records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
“As I go through the process of putting the figure within the shroud, I cross a name off. It’s vitally important that each is associated with a name, otherwise the individual gets lost in the numbers,” Rob said.
“All these men are laying on the battlefield to this day and in some small way I would like to bring them home.”
Rob, from Somerset, plans to create all 72,396 figures by November, to mark the centenary of Armistice day.
He said: “It would be like nothing else – 5,000 square metres of bodies laid out in rows, where they will be seen by thousands of people, reminding them of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The Shrouds of the Somme will be the second large-scale installation in east London to commemorate the First World War’s centenary, following the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London.
That exhibition, which was in place between July and November 2014, saw 888,246 ceramic red poppies placed in the moat, each representing one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the war.
The Shrouds of the Somme will be free to view between November 9 and 18 this year.