Friday marked 100 years since the first day of the battle of the Somme – the single bloodiest day in the history of British warfare.
In one solitary day, an incomprehensible 19,000 men died. 19,000 is a number that you can read, but can’t fathom. Imagine a sold out Kingsholm, or a sold out Trent Bridge, or a sold out Loftus Road and then replace the cheering crowds with corpses. Imagine standing on the centre circle, the half way line, or at the crease and looking about you and seeing 19,000 dead men packing the stands.
And that was just those killed in action. A further 39,000 were wounded. Picture a capacity crowd at White Hart Lane this time, but replace the noise of cheering with screams of agony, of moaning, weeping, choking men, limbless, blinded, disembowelled. Unimaginable horror.
I can say picture it, but it really is beyond comprehension. No one alive today can relate to that level of slaughter.
100 years might sound like a long time but, the truth is it isn’t. Many of our grandfathers fought in the second world war. You only have to look to their fathers to find World War One veterans. My great, great uncle was one of those who died at the Somme.
Young men with no idea of the true nature of war were eager to sign up. Friends and family joined the military together. It was seen as a short lived jaunt, with many regarding it as holiday from the drudgery of farm labouring and factory work. An opportunity to see a bit of the world before heading back to resume their ordinary lives.
But the reality was quite different. Millions never returned, and millions who did were irreparably damaged both physically and mentally, permanently scarred.
The cream of a generation was taken during the course of a war that claimed 17 million lives across all sides and changed countless more forever.
We need to remember that slaughtered generation, because it could all too easily happen again. With Europe riven politically at present, we’re reminded that the foundations of peace within the continent are not necessarily concrete and that we need to work hard to maintain the stability that ensures it will never happen again.
To take it back to PR then, there was a brilliant tribute to the dead of the Somme on Friday as 1,500 voluntary participants took to various train stations, shopping centres, high streets and beaches across the country to mark the 1st day of the battle. The so called ‘ghost tommies’ were stood or sat around silently as if about to be shipped off to France like the real tommies a century before. If anyone approached them to find out more information, they were simply handed a card with the name of a soldier who died in the war written upon it.
It spread all over social media as people shared it with the hashtag #wearehere with many remarking on the emotive effect.
A very touching and moving memorial that harnessed the power of social media. Well done to National Theatre head Rufus Norris, and artist Jeremy Deller who were the people behind the commemoration.