You might have missed the centenary of the Day the Guns Fell Silent on 11th November, as commemorated with terrific originality in the Pages of the Sea project devised by the film director Danny Boyle. Ireland was well represented by three very different people in three spectacular beach locations. Boyle’s brilliant Olympic 2012 opening ceremony in London displayed the British gift for creating new traditions without irritating venerable traditionalists with dogmatic lessons about the iniquities of war and the British Empire etc etc. (Perhaps Boyle should take us on?)
For him in the Olympic opening ceremony, British history was about the foundation of the NHS and the horrors as well as the achievements of the industrial revolution. Showing an altogether different side of the Queen, he had Daniel Craig as James Bond commission her in the flesh to parachute jump into the stadium as a double. Yesterday we saw the Queen in a new tradition of her own, as an observer of the wreath laying at the Cenotaph for the second year of the retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh from public life .
On Sunday morning portraits of individuals killed in the war were created on sandy beaches throughout Great Britain and Ireland when the tide was out and were washed away when the tide came in. The fleeting existence of the portraits symbolised the transience of life in war in particular, together with its longer lasting memory.
Rifleman John McCance from Dundrum who died at Passchendaele in 1917 was depicted at nearby Murlough. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial along with 35,000 others.
A huge artist’s impression of First World War nurse Rachel Ferguson was displayed at Downhill beach. Miss Ferguson, from Moneymore, died in 1918 while working for Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.
At Dunree on the Inishowen side of Lough Swilly , an image of James Buckley was created. He was a sailor drowned on board the SS Laurentic, a passenger liner which sank after striking two mines north of the Irish coast on 25 January 1917 with the loss of 354 lives. She was carrying about 43 tons of gold ingots at the time of her loss, and as of 2017, 20 bars of gold are yet to be recovered.
Boyle himself supervised the depiction of the great war poet Wilfred Owen on the beach at Folkstone, the embarkation point for hundreds of thousands of troops who never returned from the Western Front. Owen had a last swim there before embarkation. He was killed seven days before the armistice aged 25.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
BY WILFRED OWEN
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London