Shrouds of the Somme: Project Update

2 November 2018 | Chloe Bowerbank

An extraordinarily powerful piece of commemorative art will mark the centenary of the end of the First World War across the Nation in 2018. The enormous scale of the Shrouds of the Somme brings a genuine sense of the true cost of the conflict, whilst remembering those who gave their all as individual men. This will be an event of international importance which will resonate around the world. See short BBC film: https://youtu.be/tpuRXdDiJ1s

Artist Rob Heard is hand stitching and binding calico shrouds for 72,396 figures representing Commonwealth servicemen killed at the Somme who have no known grave, many of whose bodies were never recovered and whose names are engraved on the Thiepval Memorial.

Each figure is a human form, individually shaped, shrouded and made to a name. They will be laid out shoulder to shoulder in hundreds of rows to mark the Centenary of Armistice Day at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 8-18th November 2018 filling an area of over 4000sqm. Entry will be free to the public and in excess of 200,000 visitors are expected over 11 days.

Installations of 19,240 shrouded figures in 2016 to mark the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme in Exeter and Bristol attracted over 140,000 visitors, received 14million film views on social media, was top of BBC National news on Armistice Day and raised £52,000 for SSAFA and Exeter Foundation.

Project Statistics

  • Rob has hand stitched all 72,396 shrouds – it has taken him 18 months
  • He spends 12-14 hours a day binding figures into the shrouds
  • Total time to stitch and bind all the shrouds will be around 15,000 hours
  • He has currently completed 68,000 shrouded figures, with 4,400 left to bind into the shrouds
  • Materials used: 5,142m of calico, 84,000m of thread, 1.66million stitches by Rob’s hand
  • Each shrouded figure is 12” long
  • The shrouds will fill more than 4000sqm at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
  • Laid out end to end, the figures would stretch 22.1km
  • Altogether, all the shrouds will weigh nearly 8tonnes.

The project has teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which built and cares for this iconic memorial to the 72,000 missing of the Somme – men who died during the battle and whom the fortune of war denied a known grave. The CWGC has made available the records of those commemorated on the memorial and created a permanent digital archive to store the public’s contributions. Members of the public can upload their own photographs and stories to the digital archive, ensuring a legacy of commemoration of these men which will continue far beyond 2018: http://blog.cwgc.org/thiepval-stories/

The Shrouds team are working in partnership with CWGC, University College London and QEOP to engage thousands of school children in Shrouds of the Somme to widen their understanding of the First World War and its consequences, particularly on their local communities. https://shroudsofthesomme.com/schools-programme/