Artist creating final shrouds for war display
ASOMERSET artist is working flat out to complete a centrepiece of the national commemorations of the end of the First World War.
Rob Heard is creating 72,396 miniature shrouds – one for every British serviceman and South African infantryman killed during the Battle of the Somme who have no known grave.
He has 4,000 more to make for the display at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, which marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day on November 11 – one month away.
The collection must be completed by November 1 so the installation can be assembled in time for the November 8 opening, which means he must make 200 a day.
“It is going really, really well,” he said. “Four thousand is not as demanding as it sounds.”
Princess Anne will visit the Shrouds of the Somme on November 15 and more than 3,000 children are booked to see the display, which will run to November 18.
The project began five years ago when Mr Heard, of Watchet, Somerset, read about the casualties at the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest in British military history, in which 19,240 Allied lives were lost on the first day alone – July 1, 1916.
Unable to comprehend what 19,240 looked like, Mr Heard began to make shrouds for 12-inch articulated figures to “physicalise” that number.
With the help of his friend, the musician Steve Knightley, of the Exeter duo Show of Hands, the personal and private project became 19240 Shrouds of the Somme, a public installation that drew 50,000 visitors to Northernhay Gardens in Exeter in 2016 and a further 90,000 when the work was shown later in Bristol.
Supported by 6 Rifles, the project has raised £54,000 for Armed Forces charities.
A smaller version has been laid out in a Western Front-style trench, on display at Aerospace Bristol, which continues until Sunday.
Mr Heard, 53, has put his work as a wood craftsman on hold to complete the project, which will cover 4,000 square metres.
“It is important for me to see the figures laid out, for the people killed – who are under the ploughed fields of the Somme – to be given that dignity,” he said. “The men who were killed in the First World War died in these terrible ‘meat grinder’ battles at the Somme, Ypres and Verdun.”
The figures are on sale at shrouds ofthesomme.com to sustain the project, with profits going to SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation.
Rob Heard alongsidehis moving creation