In a Remembrance Day event, Stuart Forster reports from ‘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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
See the Pages of the Sea website for more information about the event.
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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