Stuart Forster heads to Roker Beach for a Remembrance Day event commemorating 100 years since the end of World War One, reporting from Pages of the Sea in Sunderland.
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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 a venue for Pages of the Sea.
Similar events were held on 31 other beaches around the country. Pages of the Sea was described as an opportunity for people to say a final goodbye to the combatants of the Great War, fought from 1914 to 1918.
Danny Boyle is the creator of Pages of the Sea. Boyle is the director of films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.
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 served in the Corps of Royal Engineers during World War One. He was from Houghton-le-Spring, a small town six miles from Sunderland.
A former coal miner, Carr 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 in Sunderland viewed the portrait from Roker Beach, up on the promenade by the Cat and Dog Steps and from the elevated perspective of 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 in World War One. Some began weeping.
As the North Sea tide came in 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. The 14-line work, The Wound in Time, is on the Pages of the Sea website.
Famously, World War One inspired combatants to create 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 during Pages of the Sea in Sunderland. 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.
Books about World War One
Interested in reading more about World War One? You may find the following books of interest:
The First World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque:
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry:
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.
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Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer and lives in the north-east of England. He is available for freelance commissions.
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