The worst day in the history of the British Army will be commemorated by a photographic exhibition in Guildhall Yard, as part of a programme of events to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
‘Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: Somme 1916’ (1 June – 5 July) will feature Michael St Maur Sheil’s evocative photographs of the battlefields as they are today, alongside archive pictures from 100 years ago.
The outdoor exhibition, which has been funded by The Royal British Legion, The City of London Corporation and others, will be accompanied by a series of guest lectures and a display of Somme artefacts in the City of London Heritage Gallery at Guildhall Art Gallery. It follows Sheils’ hugely successful exhibition of Great War battlefields photographs in St. James’s Park in 2014, which was also supported by the Legion, and attracted an estimated 2.1 million visitors between August and November.
The City of London suffered huge loss of life at the Battle of the Somme, which started on 1 July 1916, and which is regarded as the day that changed British history. There were 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 were killed and of those, around 3,500 were volunteers from among those who worked in the City of London and its immediate surroundings.
Photographer Michael St Maur Sheil said: “The Battle of the Somme claimed almost 60,000 casualties on the first day alone and affected not only a whole generation of men and the lives of families and friends left behind, but also the way in which we view the First World War. Our generation finds it hard, and rightly so, to imagine the horror and suffering played out on those battlefields, which remain scarred to this day, but which are being healed gradually by nature.
“The Battle of the Somme also left scars on our collective history and now, 100 years on, I hope that the exhibition in Guildhall Yard will enable visitors to consider the conflict and pause in memory of those who died or suffered life-changing injuries.”
David Pearson, Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries at the City of London Corporation, commented: The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest episodes of the First World War and had a devastating impact on the City of London. Bankers, market porters, postmen and stockbrokers were among the many thousands of young men who lost their lives on that fateful day. This unique exhibition in Guildhall’s historic courtyard will provide a fitting tribute in this centenary year as we reflect on those terrible events and the huge number of casualties on these, now beautiful and tranquil, battlefields, which Michael St Maur Sheil has photographed with great skill.”
‘Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: Somme 1916’ runs from 1 June to 5 July in Guildhall Yard, EC2. Admission FREE.