‘Pages of the Sea’ at Roker Beach, Sunderland

The annual Remembrance Day parade and wreath laying at Sunderland Cenotaph counts as one of the United Kingdom’s largest such ceremonies outside of London. In 2018, as part of an art event to commemorate a century since the end of World War One, Sunderland’s Roker Beach was one a venue for Pages of the Sea.

Created by Danny Boyle, the director of films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, Pages of the Sea was described as an opportunity for people to say a final goodbye to the combatants of the Great War, including those who died after departing the nation’s shores.

Roker Beach on Remembrance Day 2018.
Roker Beach on Remembrance Day 2018.

Portraits on the beach

Portraits of fallen service personnel were imprinted on the sand of 32 beaches around the country. On Roker Beach, rakes were used to etch the face of Hugh Carr into the wet sand.

Carr, from Houghton-le-Spring, a small town six miles from Sunderland, served in the Corps of Royal Engineers during World War One. A former coal miner, he served as a Second Lieutenant in a tunnelling company. He was fatally wounded on 21 January 1916 when an artillery shell fell in his trench on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. He died two days later.

Visitors to Pages of the Sea viewed the portrait on Roker Beach and from the elevated perspectives provided by the Cat and Dog Steps plus footpaths in Roker Cliff Park.

The portrait Hugh Carr, a British soldier who died during World War One, on Roker Beach in Sunderland during Danny Boyle's Pages of the Sea.
The portrait Hugh Carr, a British soldier who died during World War One, on Roker Beach in Sunderland during Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea.

Shapes of Great War soldiers

Visitors to the event had opportunities to rake the shape of a solder from World War One into the sand. Using a template within a wooden frame, people of all ages participated.

Seeing the figures, reminiscent of fallen combatants, prompted some of the thousands of visitors to reflect on the participation of their family members. Some began weeping.

As the North Sea tide rose, in the mid-afternoon, the figures were erased from the beach.

The shape of a soldier etches into the sand of Roker Beach in Sunderland.
The shape of a soldier etches into the sand of Roker Beach in Sunderland.

The Wound in Time

Carol Ann Duffy, the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate, created a poem that visitors could read or listen to. If you did not get an opportunity to do that on Armistice Day, you can find the 14-line work, The Wound in Time, on the Pages of the Sea website.

A rainbow over the North Sea on Remembrance Day 2018.
A rainbow over the North Sea on Remembrance Day 2018.

World War One has provided inspiration for some notable poetry. Poems by the likes of Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon captured the mood of soldiers and the brutal horrors of a mechanised war fought in trenches.

The rising tide of the North Sea erases the portrait of Second Lieutenant Carr.
The rising tide of the North Sea erases the portrait of Second Lieutenant Carr.

Choirs, a brass band and a Northumbrian piper performed by the Roker seafront. Additionally, children were invited to make kites in a workshop.

I was prompted to wonder how participation in the war affected my ancestors. Both of my great-grandfathers survived World War One. One of them suffered the remainder of his life after being gassed. Many of the service personnel who survived World War One returned home with physical and enduring psychological injuries.

Pages of the Sea prompted reflection 100 years on from Armistice Day.

If you have a couple more minutes to spare, why not watch this short piece to camera of me speaking at Roker Beach on Remembrance Day:

Further information

See the Pages of the Sea website for more information about the event.

For ideas about things to do and see in the city, see the Sunderland Culture and See It Do It Sunderland websites.

The Royal British Legion website has information about Remembrance ceremonies and sells poppies.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, lives in the north-east of England. He is available for freelance commissions and can be contacted via this website.

Photography illustrating this post is by Why Eye Photography. Visit the website or call 07947 587136 to commission a photography shoot.

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One of the poppy-wearing visitors to Pages of the Sea in Sunderland.
One of the poppy-wearing visitors to Pages of the Sea in Sunderland.

10 Comments

  • Mark McCain

    November 15, 2018 at 21:33 Reply

    Remembrance services don’t usually interest me but this one was different. Seeing that face on the sand was moving.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 17, 2018 at 10:48 Reply

      Quite a number of people felt that way, judging by the snippets of conversations I heard while at the event.

  • Graeme Kilpatrick

    November 17, 2018 at 10:09 Reply

    I found the parade in Sunderland city centre service and wreath laying at the Cenotaph very moving. I think Pages of the Sea was very creative.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 17, 2018 at 10:44 Reply

      Thank you. Hopefully both resulting in reflection and remembrance.

  • Jon Peterson

    November 17, 2018 at 13:43 Reply

    It’s good that the men and women who served on the front line and in support roles during the World War are still being remembered 100 years after the fighting stopped.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 18, 2018 at 17:06 Reply

      Indeed. I thought it was interesting to observe how activities at Pages of the Sea ensured that many youngsters talked about World War One and the roles of the military personnel who served.

  • James Cavendish

    November 18, 2018 at 10:29 Reply

    Fantastic to see one of the northern Pages of the Sea events mentioned on this website. Most of the coverage I spotted in the days that followed was from the south of England.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 18, 2018 at 16:53 Reply

      It’s always a pleasure to write about the region in which I live.

  • Len Smith

    November 25, 2018 at 07:38 Reply

    It’s good that the sacrifices of the nation are still being remembered.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 27, 2018 at 10:42 Reply

      Indeed. And this event was a somewhat more creative take on that Remembrance.

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