'Saluting, crying, praying' - emotional response to Somme art

Media caption,
Somme art installation

Shrouded figures lie in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

They represent the 3,775 men from the Ulster and Irish regiments or from Belfast who died in the Battle of the Somme and have no known grave.

The 12-inch figures, wrapped in handmade garments, are part of the Shrouds of the Somme installation.

More than 100 years later, the men, laid out in the Garden of Remembrance, have, in a sense, finally been brought back to Irish soil.

Each man's name, regiment and rank, along with any military honour has been listed on an interpretative panel.

The original installation, four years ago, focussed on the 19,240 who were killed on the first day of the Somme.

That opening day, 1 July 1916, remains the bloodiest in the Army's history and almost a tenth of those who died were from the 36th Ulster Division.

Image caption,
The idea for the art came to Somerset artist Rob Heard in 2013 while he was recovering from a car crash

While that exhibition was on, artist Rob Heard then had the idea to take on a bigger project and remember the missing 72,396 people whose bodies were never recovered.

The 3,775 figures that lie in Belfast are part of that number.

"It's important that each one is different as that represents the individual," Mr Heard told the BBC.

Image source, Morgan-Wells/Getty Images
Image caption,
British troops climbing from their trench on the first day of the Somme

"So often, when we say these big numbers, the individual gets lost, so it's really key it's done by one man and each figure has its moment in time.

"As the figure is put in the shroud and tied up it takes its own shape."

'Here in Ireland'

Having the list of names and acknowledging each solider was important to him.

"For me, the idea of all these men and the others still laying out in the fields, being turned by the plough till this day - if we were going to bring them back, home in a small way it's good that the figures at the Garden of Remembrance today aren't in England.

"They're here in Ireland, where they came from, and that's so important."

Chairman of Shrouds of the Somme Cdre Jake Moores said the response had been "emotional".

"I've seen people standing, saluting for two or three minutes next to them, I've seen people kneeling down and praying or just sitting looking at them for 10, 15 minutes at a time, crying.

"The emotions people show are so powerful".

The installation in Belfast will run until Sunday 16 September.

Access will be free and during normal City Hall grounds opening hours (07:00 - 21:00 BST every day).

The figures will move to be part of a bigger exhibition which will move around the UK and finish in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day.

"It will give each one their moment in time as they bring them home," added Cdre Moores.