'We're Here Because We're Here'
The 'we're here because we're here' project was a UK wide event produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre, that took place on Friday July 1 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The project, commissioned by 14-18 NOW, saw around 1400 volunteers dressed in First World War uniform appear at unexpected locations across the country. These volunteers came from a wide range of backgrounds and each represented a soldier who had been killed on the first day of battle one hundred years before. They appeared in sites such as train stations, shopping centres and beaches, delivering a modern memorial directly to the British public in a moving and unexpected way.
One student at Alleyn's, Edward L, Year 12AS, volunteered to take part in the event and his account of his experience is presented below.
Edward L, Year 12AS - representing Private Ernest Dyer, 1st Battalion / Hampshire Regiment
Private Ernest Dyer died in the Battle of the Somme, aged 21. 100 years later, I represented him in a UK wide commemoration project, which saw over 1500 volunteers dressed in full WWI uniform honouring those who lost their lives. As a company, we were briefed to never say a word, but to seek eye contact with the public, and create private moments with them. Instead of the public attending a memorial, the memorial would be brought to them. As individuals approached us, we silently handed out cards, detailing the soldier whom we represented, and the hashtag #wearehere.
It was a challenging day both physically and mentally. Not only did we have to endure festering blisters within our unfamiliar leather boots, but surprisingly on occasion, verbal abuse- a woman at Waterloo Station interrogating my group as to what we were doing and why we couldn’t talk - were we in mourning, mute, ghosts or invading soldiers? Finally she yelled at us (for a reason known only to her) about abortion. At first we found the incident quite funny, after a while it became sad. Why couldn’t she understand what we trying to do?However, for every abusive member of the public, there were a thousand other people, applauding us, shaking our hands, and telling moving stories about relatives who had died in the war. One moment I will never forget is handing a card to an old lady and her husband, and seeing the look of wonder, followed by grief that sparkled over her face. Tears in her eyes, she gripped my hand very tightly and whispered ‘Thank you.’
Occasionally we would all break into song, singing the lyrics ‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here’ to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, an anthem sung in the trenches which poignantly showed the futility of the battle we were commemorating. At the end of the day we in a final rendition, abruptly screamed before we could finish. The reality of war: the indignity, the misery, the lack of glory.
As one of the youngest people involved, from initial nerves came the realisation that people my age did join the army only to die in the trenches. To see hundreds of soldiers in the flesh, amidst the turmoil of our modern commutes made us all appreciate the scale of the massacre and the tragedy of lives lost. 57,470 Brits died on the first day; being involved helped me further understand the disaster of the Somme.That day I walked over 20km with the worst blisters I have ever had, yet with every step, these became less relevant. It was an honour to represent those who had lost their lives on that horrific battle 100 years ago. I hope that our collective memory of them endures forever.