Today marks 100 years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest day of the First World War – and in British military history.
And this morning, commuters across the UK came face-to-face with the human faces behind the history.
In a ‘living memorial’ to the British soldiers killed in the Somme, young men dressed in WW1 uniforms appeared at stations and in city centres all over the country.
In towns and cities including Leicester, Manchester, Oldham, Birmingham, London, Chester, Belfast, Barnsley and Southampton, the men handed out cards to passers-by. Each one carried the name of one of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on the first day of the battle.
Some of the men sang We’re Here Because We’re Here, a song that was sung in the trenches to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
“It’s an incredible display – that fact that they are silent, they are looking at you,” history teacher Alex Parker, who witnessed the men at Waterloo Station in London, told The Guardian. “They are not talking to each other, or to you. It’s eerie. It’s strange and disconcerting. I think it’s a good way of bringing it home to people.”
The memorial drew an emotional response on social media:
The 141-day Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916, preceded by an artillery barrage so loud that a rumble could be heard 50 miles across the Channel in England. On the very first day of battle, one man was killed in action on average every 4.4 seconds; 37 sets of brothers lost their lives.
Some of the worst hit during the battle were members of the ‘pals’ battalions’, volunteer units with little or no fighting experience. The youngest person to fight in the Somme is believed to have been Sidney Lewis, who was just 13.
By the time the battle ended on 18 November 1916, it had claimed the lives of 420,000 British soldiers.
A collection of all the images posted on social media of today's #WeAreHere memorials can be viewed here.
Top image: Gemma Swallow/Twitter