‘We’re here because we’re here’ – the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme

'we're here because we'e here' conceived and created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Eoin Carey

‘We’re here because we’re here’ conceived and created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Eoin Carey

1 July 2016 saw many ceremonies and events to mark the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. One of the most striking was the unexpected appearance of thousands of actors dressed as British soldiers, in places such as train stations. Every actor handed out cards to members of the public, featuring information about the soldier he represented.  In this blog post, Catherine Long explains how she used Lives of the First World War to conduct the background research into these men.

 

10 weeks ago I was asked to undertake some research for 14-18 NOW. My task was to identify the ages of as many individuals who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme as possible. Lives of the First World War provided the perfect resources and tools to realise this objective.

 

  • Researching the stories

I began by identifying the individual’s life story page, either by their service number or name and regiment, then cross referencing a variety of sources. The 1901 and 1911 Census records were the sources of most use. In order to make a positive connection, I drew the birth or enlistment place from the Soldiers Died in the Great War database. The research consisted of hunting around for a snippet of information, which could then lead to another source. I settled into a chain process of source stepping stones – identify life story, find birth place, trace census record and cross reference against birth record.

 

One of the featured men, John William Bulger. Image uploaded by Anne Hudson

One of the featured men, John William Bulger. Image uploaded by Anne Hudson

  • Remembering every individual

As I learnt about these men who died on 1 July 1916, I built up a picture of them in my mind. Were they from a large family? What was their pre-war occupation? Did they have children? My research provided me with a window into what each dead soldier left behind. ‘We’re here’ illuminated the lives of those who served Britain during the First World War, and acts as a tribute to the men they were, the men they became and the men they could have been. On Friday 1st the media and public shared their experience of ‘We Are Here’ across the UK. I am very proud that Lives of the First World War was able to support this commemorative activity, and honour those who died on the first day of the Somme.

Lest we forget.

 

Lives of the First World War is building a legacy of those men remembered by ‘We Are Here’.  Our community titled ‘We Are Here’ is bringing together the names of those represented by actors across the nation on 1st July 2016. Please take a moment to look at the community, and remember their toil and sacrifice.

‘We Are Here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre. For full details please visit: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

 

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One Response to ‘We’re here because we’re here’ – the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme

  1. Steve Chamberlain says:

    Your blog is exceptional, and poignant. It helps bring memories both good and bad to light and rekindles an interest in knowing of family from long ago.

    My family was there, from a man who was a steward that went to the bottom with the Lucy when she was torpedoed, to another who served in the R.F.C as a mechanic… to the slopes of Vimy where another ancestor lies still, but is named upon the memorial… probably never to be found.. and of 2 sons and their father returning to the UK from Westminster BC, who were lost with their cousins and uncle within days of one another.

    So much Loss.. upon all sides and all fronts..

    And yet, today while I do my job, inspecting and certifying civil aircraft as safe to fly before the multitude embark for desk inactions far and wide I am still mindful of all what was and what took place in England from well before that fateful day that took the British Empire to war as well as the November armistice in 1918 and the signing of the treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the final end to the war which that treaty brought.. for you see, the modern AME, the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer came to be as a result of Sir Winston’s regulations published April 29th 1919 in the London Gazette which bridged the military into the civilian… the efforts and knowledge of the Ministry of Munitions, the A.I.D and the Air Council gained throughout the war into what we now know as the Air Regulations and Civil Aviation… sadly with the decline of English history in the former colonies, dominions and territories so to have we lost the history of the airmen who served valiantly on the ground and sadly society has now have removed almost all traces of those valiant men of aeronautics – the RFC and RNAS technical and equipment officers – men who became the civilian Aeronautical Ground Engineers and officers of the Imperial British Administration post April 29, 1919 – men who fought, sacrificed, learned and struggled to ensure the safety of their brothers in the air… a pool of highly educated and dedicated officers and men, many knowing they could perhaps be next into fight.

    Every day I go to work as a licensed AME and can never forget the history that allows me to sign that all may safely fly, or the sacrifices made by so many so long ago to ensure my freedom of today.

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