14 June 2014

1101: Remarkable New Sculpture Commemorates the First Minute of Peace after the Great War

The small seaside town of Seaham in the North East England unitary district of County Durham has, quietly and with only little reverential fanfare, unveiled what many are hailing as the most significant piece yet of contemporary art to commemorate the First World War.  1101 (otherwise known in full as Eleven-O-One) by local artist Ray Lonsdale is an almost three meter high sculpture in corteen steel of a single British soldier, head bowed and rifle still in hand. It has been an immediate success with local people, who have already nicknamed it Tommy (slang for an ordinary British soldier which although established in the 19th century is particularly associated with the First World War).

The significance of the name of the 1.2 tonne sculpture is that the armistice at the end of the bloodiest conflict the world had to that date seen started at 11am on 11 November, 1918.  Although it has been installed on the Seaham seafront to mark 100 years since the start of the First World War it more accurately commemorates its end in the shape of this solitary steel everyman.  Through this emotive sculpture we have the opportunity to reflect on what must have gone through the minds of so many men in the first minute of peace they had experienced for four years.

One can, of course, only guess what the men at the front thought in the moments after the armistice.  Relief, one might assume yet this poignant work expresses an enigmatic profundity of thought on the battle-weary soldier’s face that can suggest a range of feelings from grief to guilt, release to duress.

Image Credit Flickr User Bluebottle71
Image Credit Flickr User Bluebottle71
Sculpture Ray Lonsdale also intended the piece to represent the shell shock that many soldiers of the Great War suffered. It became known as Combat Stress Disorder and can be a precursor (and often was) to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many soldiers endured its agonies for years after the war had ended. 

Image Credit Flickr User Bowz999
At the base of the sculpture a poem by the artist has been engraved on a plaque, echoing the war’s association with poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert  Graves and Rupert Brooke.  It reads:

Now adrift in the wake of this glorious slaughter,
He’d seen many a soul cleansed in filthy water,
Seen godless men reach out for the Bible,
As lead tore the flesh from both friend and rival.
Soon home to the joy and celebration of kin,
Drunken slaps on the back at a favourite inn.
But heavy in his pocket lies a small piece of card
And the note written on it will break a mother’s heart.

Image Credit Flickr User Andrew
Unfortunately for Seaham, the sculpture is only on loan for three months but thousands of people have already made a special journey to see it.  Although it was quietly unveiled at the beginning of June a much larger event will be held on Monday, August 4, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

Image Credit Flickr User Andrew
Seaham Town Council has been quick to realize the power of this sculpture and has pledged £20,000 towards keeping it on the town’s seafront.  Ray Lonsdale, the artist, has turned down two offers for the full price of £85,000 as he wants to see it kept locally.  As of today the Mission 1101 Just Giving Page has raised 47% of the target. Kuriositas readers feel free to make a donation to keep this wonderful and thought provoking sculpture in its home town.

First Image Credit Flickr User Bowz999