Projected every evening during Remembrancetide onto the West End of Ripon Cathedral, this twenty-minute light show remembers those, male and female, whose lives were taken from them during WWI. It’s dreadful to watch the long, long, long list of names of the fallen, scrolling inexorably upwards. How could so many young men from this small city have died in those four years of war? We are shown photos from the war years, and the faces of some of those who have died. John McCrae’s celebrated poem ‘We are the dead‘, illustrated with ranks of graves, and scenes from the ravaged countryside of Flanders completes the spectacle. A tumbling tower of images of blood-red poppies begins and ends this thought-provoking and humbling show.
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.
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.
About a fortnight ago, the figures are beginning to take shape.
Notoriously hard to photograph….
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.
This tommy is facing the burial ground of the former soldiers who ended their days at peace in the British Legion home at Sharow, Ripon.
Walking home from North Bridge, Ripon.
Walking across fields at Hell Wath, Ripon.
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.