Last week whilst in the Sussex town of Arundel, I unexpectedly came across a very moving art installation. It is something I had heard about a few years ago and fleetingly throughout 2018 but for some reason had not expected to come across it just as I did. It is known as THERE BUT NOT THERE.
As with much of the best art, it isn’t just there to marvel at but to cause some inner contemplation and thinking. It would have been a tough job for anyone to have missed the almost million red ceramic poppies around the Tower of London in 1914 to remember the British dead of WW1 to mark the centenary of the start of the war.
Four years later and we are nearing the centenary of the end of the war and though it would be impossible to surpass the ceramic poppies, there was a strong feeling that something special should be done.
And so I wandered into another sleepy little church as I so often do and was confronted by this incredibly moving idea.
Then as I looked more closely, I saw that sat in the pews of the church were many perspex figures, each one marking a soldier from WW1 that would once have attended this very church but who never returned.
The idea of all this is that we share our spaces with those who died for our freedom and remember them as people and not just names. By doing this, they are there but not there.
I stayed for quite a while in the church, contemplating the figures and the men they represent. People who as a boy I might have known when they were old men. Almost across the road, Arundel Cathedral was also full of these ghostly figures.
So how did There But Not There begin? It happened back in 2016 with the installation of 51 transparent seated military figures in the Penshurst Church over the Remembrance period and like myself last week, it had a profound effect on everyone who saw it.
Given that widespread resonance, There But Not There aims to place a representative figure for every name on local war memorials around the country, into their place of worship, their school, their workplace or wherever their absence was keenly felt. These transparent silhouettes will be back within their communities for Remembrance 2018, the centenary commemoration of the end of the 1914-1918 First World War.
There But Not There will be the defining centenary commemoration of the end of the 1914-1918 war, installed where the men and women came from across the country, back in the communities they left behind.
To Commemorate the Fallen through highlighting the sacrifices made. The 2018 Armistice Project, There But Not There, will be the Centenary Commemoration for the end of the First World War.
To Educate all generations, particularly today’s younger generation, born nearly 100 years after the outbreak of WW1, to understand what led to the slaughter of 888,246 British and Commonwealth men.
To help Heal those suffering from the hidden wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder and other lasting legacies of combat, by raising funds for our beneficiary charities. Today, the mental health taboo of Post Traumatic Stress, or ‘shell shock’ as it was known in the Great War, is being broken and Remembered aims to play a significant role in helping build better futures for veterans and those suffering from mental illness.
So you might see these figures all over Britain in the next few months not just in churches or at memorials but all over the country because the men that died weren’t just soldiers but were bus drivers, footballers, teachers, shop workers and from every other walk of life.
To help raise both awareness and money, you can donate, purchase a silhouette or a miniature Tommy (see below) which you can inscribe with the names of your family members who lost their lives in WW1. Visit https://www.therebutnotthere.org.uk
Longtime readers to my blog will be aware of the 4 years of blog posts on subjects related to WW1 which you can find all across the blog. And you can also check out my book, Lest W Forget, which was published by Endeavour Press of London.