Published: 00:46, 07 November 2018
| Updated: 14:04, 07 November 2018
The poignant moment thousands of troops took their last steps on Blighty before heading to fight in the First World War will be remembered in a unique way this weekend.
For the centenary of the Armistice, when war finally ended, Hollywood director Danny Boyle will swap blockbusters for the beach in a one-off nationwide gesture of remembrance for the men and women who left their home shores for the conflict.
After weeks of research, the director’s project, Pages of the Sea, which was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, will feature images of some of the soldiers who left, created in the sand, before they are washed away by the tide, of Sunday, November 11.
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The public is invited to join artists from Sand In Your Eye as they create the portraits - weather permitting - on 32 beaches around the UK, which in Kent will be at Folkestone’s Sunny Sands.
From early Sunday morning, an image of Wilfred Owen - who left for the Western Front from the beach at Folkestone - will be etched into the sand and as the tide rises, onlookers can watch as it is washed away, taking a moment to say a collective goodbye.
The director became fascinated by the soldiers’ stories while working on the project and particularly the poet.
“We wanted to try and connect the communities with their beach,” he said. “Wilfred Owen left from here. He swam on this beach the night before he left - and he never returned. When you find out stuff like this it makes it so real; it touches you.”
And the man behind the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting chose Folkestone to launch his call to action last month with the Creative Foundation, announcing that key beaches across the country would have a large scale portrait of a casualty from the conflict drawn in the sand by artists from Sand In Your Eye.
In conjunction with Folkestone’s Creative Foundation, and with 14-18 NOW - the UK’s arts programme for the centenary, Mr Boyle asked people to gather on beaches for the informal, nationwide gesture of remembrance.
He added: “Beaches are great democratic places. Nobody rules other than the tide. We can all gather here and do crazy things like swim in the winter. You can stand here on the beach in Folkestone and imagine what they were all feeling and imagining as they were getting ready to leave and thinking about what they were facing.”
“They seem the perfect place to gather and say a final goodbye and thank you to those whose lives were taken or forever changed by the First World War. I’m inviting people to watch as the faces of the fallen are etched in the sand, and for communities to come together to remember the sacrifices that were made.”
Poet Carol Ann Duffy has been invited to write a new poem, which will be read by individuals, families and communities as they gather on the beach called The Wound in Time.
The public is also invited to visit an online gallery to select someone to say a personal goodbye to either via social media or on the beaches from the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War at livesofthefirstworldwar.org
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was born in Oswestry on the Welsh borders and raised in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury. Arguably one of the most admired and respected poets of the First World War, his poetry was characterised by its poignant images of the horrors of trench and gas warfare. At the time of his death, he was virtually unknown, with only four of his poems published during his lifetime.
In September 1915, he enlisted and by 1917 left for the Western Front across the Channel from Folkestone, having stayed at Folkestone’s Metropole Hotel the night before. He stood for 50 hours in a flooded dugout in No Man’s Land at Serre, where he developed shell-shock and returned to Britain for treatment.
He left from Folkestone again in August 1918, to return to his battalion on the Western Front and went on to take part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Joncourt in October 1918, seizing a German machine gun, for which he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his courage and leadership.
He was killed in the last week of the war, during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors.
Pages of the Sea will be at Folkestone’s Sunny Sands beach on Sunday, November 11 at 10.45am for 11am, but you can arrive earlier.
14-18 NOW and is the culmination of a five-year programme of arts commissions marking the First World War centenary, delivered with organisations across the UK For more information go to pagesofthesea.org.uk