A live tribute has been carried out for the men who died during the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Commuters first saw the groups on their way to work, where men have dressed in period uniforms at railway stations, university campuses, offices, and public squares.
Groups of actors have been spotted throughout the United Kingdom, including Bristol, London, Swansea, Newcastle, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and the Shetland Islands.
Some have described the volunteers as “ghost soldiers” who were handing out cards with the names and rank of those who died during Britain’s bloodiest battle.
The hashtag #WeAreHere has been trending on Twitter, the name being inspired by an anthem sung by soldiers on the battlefields “We’re Here Because We’re Here.”
The songs of World War 1 are characterised by bitterness, boredom, disbelief, and disillusionment. Scottish folk singer Ian McCalman says heroics were not part of the theme. “[There] were very few songs with any animosity towards the Germans, who they were fighting […] It was quite unbelievable that the wrath of the soldiers was directed at their own Command,” said McCalman.
Birmingham New Street station. Image: Mar Dixon
The majority the public was not sure what to make of the act, though the comments are overwhelming positive. Commuters approached the uniformed men to find out who they were, but no reply was given. Instead, cards were handed out detailing individual fallen soldier’s name, rank, and at which point during the battle he died.
Mandy Charlton said: “With all that is happening in the country right now, this [display] really puts things into perspective.”
The moving tribute was organised by Project Octagon with help from the National Theatre. Nearly 20,000 men, mostly amateur actors, students, and undergraduates, aged between 16 and 40 were recruited for the performance, with over 400 placed in London.
Several rehearsals were carried out but the men were not told exactly what they would be doing on the day, only being told it would a “one-off, large-scale theatre project directed by an award-winning team.”
The powerful scenes serve as a poignant reminder of the immense scale of suffering and service these men gave for their country.