Fields of mud – seeds of hope

Citizens of Ripon and beyond have been calling into the cathedral as often as they could over the last few weeks.  Not necessarily to view this ancient building, or even to spend quiet moments reflecting.  Perhaps not even to view the poppies which are here, as they are throughout the city centre.

We’ve all been visiting the Fields of Mud  in the Cathedral itself.  Back in early October, that’s all we could see.  A large brown rectangle of damp mud, surrounded by sandbags.  This mud is from Passchendaele, and from a Great War military camp in Ripon. As, over the weeks, the wet earth dried and cracked, five ghostly, battle weary figures slowly emerged on the surface.

This image, exhibited in the Cathedral, is a print projecting the final appearance of the piece.

There are millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lying dormant in that mud.  When the piece is decommissioned later this month, it will be broken up and segments will be made available to the public to create their own memorials.  This work’s legacy can continue indefinitely.

This astonishingly moving and evocative piece is the inspiration of Dan Metcalfe: his farming background has given him an understanding of mud.  It’s disagreeable, destructive and even dangerous, as every WWI tommy well knew. But it also harbours seeds, waiting to flourish and grow when conditions are right .

Now the figures are fully visible, as the mud which surrounds them has dried out.  And so we can see that these are the same figures that have appeared round town, near North Bridge and the Cathedral itself, at Hell Wath and Rotary Way: and in nearby Sharow, where the British Legion home for former service personnel used to be.  These soldiers, and a nurse appear as silhouettes, made from rusted metal, and they are trudging home, their backs to the conflict and facing the future.

Ripon city has recently made us keenly aware of the sacrifices  made in the Great War.  But the poppies, the Fields of Mud are not the whole story.  Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, I’ll show you Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show.

Fred and Old Bones trudging home near North Bridge, Ripon. The soldier’s pipe is turned upside down to keep his baccy dry during the inevitable rain. This brilliant image was captured at sunset by Andrew Dobbs. (https://www.andrewdobbs.photo/)

Click on any image to see it full size.

15 thoughts on “Fields of mud – seeds of hope”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Margaret. It is interesting to learn of Ripon’s contribution to the Great War, and the touching way the Armistice is being commemorated by the people of your town. It does bring home that one ought to be very sure of the facts before sending young men and women off to other conflicts.

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    1. Yes indeed. ‘Women of Britain say ‘Go!” was the slogan of the early days of the Great War. Then many found themselves in the position of my friend’s granny: every single one of her three brothers died. And for what?

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  2. This is so incredibly moving! I still don’t entirely understand how the figures came out of the mud but what an amazing project–so creative and symbolic. And then the large figures out in the fields that parallel the mud figures. I get shivers seeing these photos. Ripon has done the memory of WWI proud.

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    1. No, we don’t understand the techniques involved either, but it was a great experience, living near enough to pop in often and watch those figures becoming ever less ghostly. I hope the figures in the open might stay, because they are such an evocative reminder of that terrible war.

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  3. So moving. There is a real pool of talent and imagination in Ripon. We’re just back from A-V where there is no sign of commemoration at all although I did have a conversation with the lady doing my nails about New Zealanders who died in the French cause. Your post about your inner paysanne made me think of my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law who, before she went into a Care home at 99.5, always took a bow saw when she walked the dog so she could bring home fallen wood in manageable pieces.

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    1. My kind of mother-in-law! I’ve got the bug aagain. I can’t leave the house without returning with a branch or two. While we still lived in Laroque, they were looking forward to planning a big commemorative exhibition for 2018 about local soldiers who served in WWI. I wonder if it happened?

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    1. It’s been a moving experience, and one which has engaged the local population to an astonishing degree. The streets were crowded for this morning’s Remembrance Day Parade, notwithstanding the rain. There were about 2000 in the Cathedral after, for a service which included contributions from the Army (we are an army town), schoolchildren, an exquisite German choir and a sermon from a German Lutheran Bishop. It would be nice if experiences like this could change the world, but …….

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