“We’re here because we’re here” #Somme100 #wearehere

Yesterday morning in Belfast a group of men dressed in WW1 uniforms quietly marched down the Stranmillis Road and stopped outside Queen’s University, leaning against bollards, lying back on the wrought iron gate. After a while one soldier struck up the song “We’re here because we’re here” – sung in the trenches – and the other voices joined in.

When approached by a member of the public, rather than speaking they simply reached into a pocket and handed over a white card bearing the name of a local soldier who died at the Somme on 1 July 1916.

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

The squad moved throughout the city, appearing in Great Victoria Street bus station, outside the Europa, in Victoria Square, the MAC, the Big Fish and even caught the train to Ballymena. Another group were based in Derry. And across the UK, similar uniformed soldiers – ghosts of the war – appeared in railway stations and public places in a moving tribute to the losses at the Somme.

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

The juxtaposition of khaki onto the modern colour palette was striking. The sound of boots marching in formation down the footpath.

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

Last night, after the ghosts had disappeared from the street, the back story to the event was explained. The local volunteers, organised by Lyric Theatre and The Playhouse were part of a UK-wide collaboration that saw 1400 men appear dressed in replica uniforms. The modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, and the work was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller working with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

“The project breaks new ground in terms of its scale, breadth, reach and the number of partners and participants involved. This is the first time three national theatres have worked together on a joint project, and the first time so many theatres have worked together on a UK-wide participation project.

“The participants who walked the streets today were a reminder of the 19,240 men who were killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed that day. The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one.

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

“The participants wore historically accurate uniforms, representing 15 of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle. The soldiers did not speak, but at points throughout the day would sing the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’, which was sung in the trenches during the First World War. They handed out cards to members of the public with the name and regiment of the soldier they represented, and, where known, the age of the soldier when he died on 1 July 1916.

“The day long work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the width and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Penzance. Sites they visited included shopping centres, train stations, car parks and high streets – taking the memorial to contemporary Britain and bringing an intervention into people’s daily lives where it was least expected.”

Because We Are Here Somme 100 commemoration - Belfast

For further events commemorating the battles of the Somme, check out History Hub Ulster’s Belfast Somme 100 programme, supported by Belfast City Council.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    What an excellent idea this was. So visual and right in the middle of todays ‘real life’ world. I wonder how young people, who got on the disgusting anti old person bandwagon recently, feel about that generation’s ultimate sacrifice.

  • the rich get richer

    What a waste of the lives of so many mostly young men .

    What kind of a system would throw away the lives of so many people ?

  • I applaud the imagination of the people who organised the period soldiers replay. I lament that the central emphasis wasn’t on the pity and pain and futility of it all

  • Nevin

    Sergeant Robert Quigg VC was remembered and commemorated in Bushmills a few days ago. Robert Thompson’s recent research on those who returned brought to light the name of one of my great-uncles who served and survived, something that was news to me.

  • Including the age on the cards (for the soldiers whose age was known) was a pretty big pointer to the futility.


  • notimetoshine

    The real gripe is with the boomers, I do t think they have any issue with a generation that is dead

  • Declan Doyle

    It is really hard in this day and age to imagine that western Europe then was a place where the value of men was measured on the basis of their willingness to die before there lives had only begun. Rather than human they were regarded as no more than cannon fodder, articles of conflict to be used to defend an empire that would crumble anyway. Their sacrifice was innocent but their masters were guilty. What talent died in the fields of Europe? We shall never know how they might have shaped our world. Did they save us from tyranny or did their deaths deliver us into tyranny?

  • babyface finlayson

    What did the central emphasis appear to be to you?
    It was inspired by stories of relatives who believed they had seen a dead loved one,The cards were inscribed with the bare details of dead men. The words of the song ‘we’re here because we’re here, because we’re here’ could not describe futility more succinctly.
    If that does not suggest the pity and pain of it all to you, I really don’t know what would.

  • Jim M

    Would you rather they were howling and covered in blood Jude? I lament your lack of imagination. I don’t like all aspects of the Somme commemorations but this seems very imaginative and moving to me.

  • No, Jim, I wouldn’t want them howling and covered in blood – although that’s probably how many of them ended their lives. I’m sorry you find my imagination limited. I was simply disturbed by the absence of what should be at the heart of every commemoration of every battle and every aspect of WW1: that it was an imperial war that slaughtered millions for no good reason other than imperial greed. Like so many Irish people I had relatives who died in WW1 but when I think of them I don’t think how noble they were or any such rubbish- I think of the sickening waste of life. I repeat, that sickening waste should be front and centre in commemoration of the ‘Great War’ (another lie) and not the sweet sad melancholy that we drape it in.

  • AntrimGael

    A great uncle served in the Royal Navy in WWI so this was very poignant, very moving and thought provoking. Those behind it really caught the public’s imagination and made us think about the real people who never came home. It was in stark contrast to the spectacle witnessed by Jim McDowell in Belfast City Centre on June 18th. Now Jim is a proud Donegall Pass man but here is his article from the Sunday World from Sunday June 26th.

    “SICKENING. That’s the only word I can use to describe how I felt witnessing that so called Somme Associations parade in Belfast last weekend. It was dressed up as a commemoration in honour of those brave and selfless men and women who died at the Battle of The Somme. Some people may genuinely have believed that’s what they were doing. But in reality, it was hijacked, again, by the UVF.
    It was nothing short of a show of strength by them and their co called ‘Commanders’ to show that as members of an illegal, outlawed and still proscribed organisation they can parade publicly and with impunity through the main streets of the capital city of this country. And to see the likes of East Belfast Godfather ———— and South Belfast gangster ——— (Jim names them, I won’t) strutting through the streets, not to mention crate tossing Shankill shyster ———. Only one other word sums that up; it was a mockery.
    To say the likes of that irrelevant rabble couldn’t lace the boots of the good men who fought and died in the trenches at the Somme is an understatement. They’d probably have stolen the laces – and found somewhere in Flanders to flog them”.

    Now people can say what they want about Jim, or the Sunday World, but you have to say that sums up what many people think about Loyalists hijacking these commemorations. It also highlights the hypocrisy and double standards of Unionist politicians who, if they are not actually attending these Loyalist gatherings, say absolutely nothing about the paramilitary gangsters in their midst or the trappings around them of Loyalist murder gangs. It also shows that the media are also guilty of heads in the sand and three monkeys attitude to these UVF and UDA marches dressed up as Remembrance.
    If people want to know why the Nationalist community is still very reticent and reluctant to fully embrace these events they only have to go to EVERY UDA and UVF mural in the North where Poppy wreaths are found in abundance and where WWI and WWII Battles and Standards are surrounded by scrolls containing the names of sectarian, Loyalist mass murderers. Until such time as the British Legion, British Military, Royal Family and political Unionism disassociate themselves from this offensive Loyalist disgrace the Nationalist community will neither feel welcome nor involved.

  • ted hagan

    Might have helped if Germany hadn’t invaded Belgium on its way towards France?

  • ted hagan

    ‘Great’ is to emphasise the scale of the war not how magnificent it was. And your analysis of the reasons for the war is a little simplistic.

  • ted hagan

    What utter nonsense.

  • Katyusha

    It is really hard in this day and age to imagine that western Europe then was a place where the value of men was measured on the basis of their willingness to die before there lives had only begun.

    It might have helped, if only Germany wasn’t the country in which the attitude Declan cites was most prevalent?
    The distinction between the European nations is little. It only happens that Germany was always more conservative and backward looking, and so will always bear the guilt for starting both World Wars.

  • Tochais Siorai

    I’d imagine most of them would consider it a futile waste and give the finger to the imperialistic jingoism that sent these young men to the trenches.

  • AntrimGael

    A few months back the Irish President pulled out of an Easter 1916 dinner in Belfast City Hall due to non Unionist participation….AFTER an all party City Hall agreement that EVERY party would send a member to the Easter 1916 AND Somme dinners. The President’s Office said that it was “because the event was not inclusive”. Now we see the Irish President himself and Irish government representatives attending events in Belfast and Northern France which included the Orange Order. What say now the Irish Establishment for the “feelings and sensitivities” of Northern Nationalists?” This may sound a bit petty but I merely wish to highlight the complete hypocrisy and double standards of the servile, fawning, cap doffing Irish Establishment including the Office of the Irish President.

  • Declan Doyle

    So it would have been ok to invade France?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, in what way is this nonsense? We’ve almost had a melt down of banking (2007) with all the possible consequences for the everyday life of ordinary people caused by reckless and excessive Baby-boomer greed. And, hey, we’ve been bouncing along the bottom ever since economically. Please clarify your use of “nonsense” here against so self evident an observation as Ernekid has made.

    I cannot think of any of the Great War officers who came to my family home in the 1950/60s who might have even begun to disagree with him. Such people had served alongside men of other classes, as had those rankers from middle class homes who were not commissioned. Their concern was for the good of the whole community, and the exploitation of the poor and needy simply to get in a few more holidays or to permit the guy who ‘deserves” a massive wage simply to purchase a new BMW every year would have appeared as a grossly culpable selfishness to those who had the compelling fact that life is simply too short for such trivialities forcibly brought home to them in the Swabian Redoubt or in March 1918 in the fogs of St Quentin.

  • ted hagan

    If you’re talking about the wealthy one per cent then that’s a different argument The financial crash ruined many people of whatever generation. Blame capitalism. The vast majority of baby boomers were not wealthy, they bought modest homes, contributed to the welfare state and brought up families. The idea of a generation living it up like there was no tomorrow is farcical. Many in the so-called boomer generation fought for causes, for justice, for civil rights, for freedoms.
    There is a small section of apathetic young people today that seems to be wallowing in self-pity and looking for someone to blame for the woes of the world. To blame previous generations, a trend at the moment, is too easy and such a pathetic cop-out.
    As for World War One, perhaps some of the greatest heroes are those who refused to partake in it and paid dearly for ir;

  • Anglo-Irish

    Have to agree with that, I’m a ‘boomer’ who voted to remain.

    It’s all very well blaming many of our generation for voting leave but how about laying some of the blame on the younger generation for being too idle to vote?

    The real culprit here is Cameron for offering a referendum for purely selfish party reasons.

    Leaving it wide open for the xenophobic and the uninformed to decide the country’s future when those type of decisions are what the politicians are supposedly there for.

    As for WW1 an uncle of mine served in the Royal Navy and had three ships sunk under him and a cousin died on the 1 July at Serre on the morning of the first day of the Somme.
    My father served through WW2.

    Can’t help noticing that that makes me the first male on that side of the family who’s generation haven’t been involved in a European war.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, I am one of those baby boomers who ” fought for causes, for justice, for civil rights, for freedoms” (PD/NICRA, and a lot more practical “idealism” since). But I do talk to and mix with young people today who have been left with a world of University Fees and loans, short contract jobs and unaffordable housing organised to “save the state money and permit vote catching tax reductions” by those who had University Education paid for them, jobs for life and cheap housing on tap. People under 40 are not doing some cop out, but are experiencing the world that has made the baby boomers in general far more comfortable than generations before and after. Most are too busy chasing next years job and finding the money for mortgages or university loans repayments to be idealistic “out on the streets.” For this generation going out on the streets means living in cardboard box!!!

    To simply see the increase of house values that has produced middle class “wealth” (just one example) as somehow a victimless windfall is to ignore how my generation had vampirised the younger generations with hiking up house prices and demanding less and less taxation since Thatcher popularised tax cuts, and simply in order to fund a lifestyle rooted in the fact that the modest homes in London which they bought, which cost £20,000 in the 1970s and could be afforded by anyone on a decent income are now going for near a million and can only be purchased today at the expense of the greater part of a higher joint middle class income going to the banks for mortgage repayment. Try getting out and actually meeting young people who suffer terrible hardships my generation never faced!!!!!

  • Reader

    Antrim Gael: Now we see the Irish President himself and Irish government representatives attending events in Belfast and Northern France which included the Orange Order.
    You seem to assume that the mere presence of the Orange Order means that the event cannot be inclusive. There is no suggestion that the OO organised the event.
    Since the President’s Office seems to disagree with you, maybe you should work a bit harder making that part of your case.

  • sharon purcell

    It was a poignant moment that subliminally created silence without an official decree. The physical, yet silent presence of the soldiers magnified the yearning of contact for the painful loss of life of children, fathers, husbands and future husbands.

  • ted hagan

    As I said, most people scrape by. I meet plenty of young people who are full of optimism and spirit and drive. The fact that young people are being screwed is down to a lot more than the alleged indulgences of their parents and grandparents..
    And I certainly don’t remember many ‘gap.year’ adventures in my college years. Perhaps you should research the subject a bit more rather than scapegoating easy targets.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Yeah, more the WW2 generation and generally the people that may have been children during or after the war. They would be aware of the deaths of parents etc.

    “I’m angry at the generation of baby boomers who squandered the vision of post war peace and stability”

    Can you specify what you are refering to in the post WW2 era? The common market appeared in the 70s I think, and the political union in 93. Neither of which have anything to do with NATO.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    More than jingoism caused both WW1 and 2. But definitely the rich and powerful deserve the disgust of the common soldier.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I think you’re letting your own bitterness get the better of you. The actor soldiers were giving out cards of ordinary soldiers that had died. Nothing more. That is focusing on the people who died.

  • Tochais Siorai

    WW2 was quite a different matter, SR. Not the subject of this thread.

  • Nevin

    The anniversary has also led to queries from family members. I’ve just recently been contacted by a man in Adelaide, South Australia, whose great-uncle, Malcolm ‘Moltke’ Magill from Magherafelt, served in and survived the war.

    The project outlined above leaves me cold; it’s little more than a list of names, names which already exist on town war memorials and on plaques in churches. The books by Robert Thompson, mentioned in the above link, provide a more personal touch; in a manner of speaking they put flesh on the bones.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Leave has taken away our future goes the refrain:

    Spain has 46% youth unemployment: Portugal has 30% youth unemployment: Italy has 36% youth unemployment: Greece has 50% youth unemployment. Still you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs hey?

    And estimated that – 2016 the youth unemployment rate in Ireland was 25.8%.

    And they think the oldies are selfish, demented or stupid:

    We oldies are dangerous: not because the future does not matter to us but because what is happening to the UK matters to us very much indeed. We have seen the EU in action, seen it lay siege to nations and arrogate power to itself, seen it lie and cheat about the outcome of referenda and seen it destroy the prospects of young people in Europe. We fear for the future of our children and for the survival of the country we love. We do not wish to see our nation relegated to a Euro theme park.

    We are dangerous and determined.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Fair enough.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sure, Ted, most people scrape by, but usually those higher up the pecking order, such as those Baby Boomers profiting from the young. Come on, are you really suggesting that all that increase in home values simply came out of thin air? No, it came out of the pockets of those younger people who bought their homes later from the profiting Baby Boomers. The bankers you are willing to identify as culpable (sure, they deserve it!) are the really “easy” target to identify, with all those bonuses they almost wear the horns and hoofs in public today, but they skimmed off the money in their bonuses from the windfalls of each and every home owner who profited on that increased house value others of a younger generation had to commit to paying, and from all those tax reductions the Baby Boomers voted Tory governments (“Thatcherblair”) in to safeguard. Are you really trying to say that the people who had “free” education and jobs for life did not fully support the system today which has made for short contracts and heavy debt both from educational loans and proportionately much higher mortgages that the baby boomers? You can do the Nelson eye patch act and ignore the culpability of an entire generation spending other people’s children’s incomes to fund fat retirement packages, I’m afraid some of us have both eyes open to the facts.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Unfortunately, the past events on this island, have been high jacked by extremist’s (on both sides) who believe that they have the right to inherit the name of the 36th Ulster Division, or the name of the United Irish men etc. I don’t know how we stop these people doing it. As far as I know the RBL, military and Royal family do not participate in loyalist run events. I’m not sure about unionist politician’s, but I’m sure some of them probably do. Shame on them if they do.

    As a Presbyterian, I have a great interest in the likes of McCracken and Tone etc, yet the people who are claiming to be the inheritors of the UI men, make it very hard for me, and fellow (unionist) Presbyterians like me, to attend the events commemorating them. How do you stop these people, who have dishonoured the name, and ideals, of the UI men, from holding these events.

  • Nevin

    AG, have you read the President’s diary?

    President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath in the name of the Irish people at the Cross of Sacrifice in Thiepval, France, to mark the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.

    The President was joined by members of the British royal family, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Hollande and former German President Kohler.

    A significant number of those who died would have labelled themselves Irish, British and Unionist but the the Irish political establishment now seems anxious to air-brush the British aspect and the Unionist aspiration from the public record.

  • terence patrick hewett

    My late friend Mike Bracken was at a PTA meeting when the chairman arose and asked “what do our pupils want?” To which Mike replied loudly “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll.” Collapse of stout party.

    Do not censure the young too much for not voting: they have other imperatives.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I believe one of the members of Spinal Tap was asked about it and he replied ” If I could get the sex and drugs I could do without the Rock ‘n’ Roll “. : )

    Their prerogative as to whether to vote or not, but when one of them starts complaining that it was all the fault of us ‘Boomers’ it needs to be pointed out that we weren’t totally responsible for the referendum result.

    I’m also not too happy about all of us being tarred with the same brush when it comes to responsibility for the overall decline in the economy caused by rampant unregulated greed.

    Most of us were just trying to live our lives raise our children and pay our taxes.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Should have said: “My friend the late Mike Bracken” But yes you are just about right.

  • Thomas Barber

    Were they not all Irish Nevin or was there no Irish people before partition.

  • ted hagan

    You are in fantasy land. If you are looking to blame someone blame the capitalist system and the one percenters. Young people are beingripped off and short changed but its’laughable to suggest that babyboomers are responsible. It’s pathetic. Look for the real targets and you might get somewhere.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, the present condition of our young, which I note you now concede (“Young people are beingripped off and short changed”), is the product of an entire generation “getting on in life” without thinking about where their increased income and improved lifestyle would be coming from, or what might be affected in the process. The Baby Boomers have of course been led in this by cynical and unscrupulous people, i.e.: “the capitalist system”, but this as such is an abstraction, a reification, and has no actual agency in itself. It is real people working the capitalist system who are personally culpable. So the fat cats set it up, but every vote for tax reduction and the charging of University fees and the cutting of grants, every person benefiting from the rise in house prices, every business person delighted at the benefits of short work contracts, all are benefiting from climbing on the backs of our youth. It is a cop out to simply blame the big players, who are certainly culpable, but with the support and individual connivence of almost an entire generation who must share in this culpability. The people in the 1% could not have achieved what they have without the solid support of each and every person who countenanced or actively benefited in some manner from this system that let the people at the top do what they have done by playing off every ordinary person’s tiny contribution to our general culture of individualist greed. The fantasy here is that only those benefiting on a large scale are really culpable.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Alan, I do a regular line on slugger about what those earlier people whose histories are invoked by politically motivated people today would think perhaps. I entirely agree with you that those who claim these inheritances often dishonour the memory of those who suffered.

    Have you read Tim Bowman’s “Carson’s Army”, which gives a well researched and objective assessment of the formation of the Ulster Division? It is interesting to note from Tim’s research that many of those UVF regiments who earmarked Regular Battalions could only make up 50/60% of recruitment as many UVF were simply unwilling to fight outside of the province. So the numbers were made up from general recruitment. While I’d still imagine that most were Unionist, the modern UVF claim to man for man cross over is a serious distortion of the truth.

  • ted hagan

    That is as simplistic an explanation as would be blaming my parents for me having to endure thirty years of the Troubles. And that it was their fault.
    The baby boomers benefited from better economic times in a model that doesn’t work any more. You can’t blame them for that. Try studying globalisation and capitalism and you might get on the right path. You are fighting the wrong war.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, in my book simplistic is shifting the blame to big distant things like the system and capitalism. There’s a simple test for what I’m saying. Did you vote for “Thatcher and Blair” and the culture of cutting state engagement with funding education or simply think this was a good thing? Did you support tax cuts? Did you engage in buying low and selling high in the housing boom? These are actual actions which have contributed their little part in destroying the actual lives of younger people. And your “better economic times” is another broad generalisation that really needs to be much more carefully unpacked. The house price increase came from others (younger) down the housing ladder being forced to pay more for housing each year and inflating that bubble which “allowed” Britain’s economic expansion. That and those tax cuts which ensured that one generation had free education while the next paid for it. The expanding economy was not some act of God but the product of a particular approach to finance, where the state withdrew from social policy and let the Baby Boomers hold on to money which a previous generation had contributed to the general public good, to the personal benefit of the Baby Boomers. None of the “better economic times” was without actual victims somewhere, then or now, just as all capitalist profit must in the end be made at someone else’s expense, and does not simply happen by itself.

    With the troubles, I’d believe that both those who tacitly supported the old Unionist system or the violent solution all did contribute their little part to what we all experienced. This is a simple fact of life, that things are caused by how the individual members of the community think and act. Each and every one of us are active agents in the world we live in. We can employ that agency to either help or exploit those around us. The Baby Boomer generation were sold a culture of personal improvement and did not even begin to look at the long term results of how this would influence the world they had inherited. We also have a sea full of plastic from all those shopping bags we packed our shopping in too. Its all simple cause and effect, things that would not have happened had that generation acted otherwise. I suggest that you yourself “Try studying globalisation and capitalism and you might get on the right path”…especially if you look beyond the big broad generalisations to the down and dirty part where genuine individual agency is involved at a grass roots level. How we each of us think and act is the foundation everything stands on. Its a responsibility none of us can avoid.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Hi Seaan, I haven’t read Tim Bowman’s book but will keep an eye out for a copy.

    I have to say that I really struggle with many from “my side of the fence” who claim to be the inheritor’s of th 36th Ulster Division.. I see the flags up lampposts claiming to represent the men who went over the top ( into a hail of bullets) and feel nothing but sadness that their memory is being dishonoured by the cretins who put them up. I also feel the same way about the other side who claim to be inheritor’s of the UI men but have betrayed the ideals that they died for.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I think we’re pretty much on the same page here in our distaste for the exploitation of what sincere and committed people have done by those who are simply out to exploit their sacrifice for their own ends.

    My grandfather was with the 107th Trench Mortar battery over the last three years of the war. The use made of the 36th Division by those contemporaries who had not actually served disgusted him, and growing up with this and a similar contempt for such political fellow travellers by other officers who had survived the war too have deeply influenced my own feelings on the matter. I entirely agree with your comments on the United men also. Their memory deserves greater respect than to be coupled with sectarian murders.