All living memory of that war has now passed away: it is now history and only the landscape remains to bear witness to those horrendous events. But it is a landscape where time and nature have healed the scars and created places of great beauty.
These photographs are a reflection upon the manner of that healing and the reconciliation of once warring nations.
The majority of people do not visit museums or art galleries which sadly gives ‘art’ an exclusivity that denies most people the chance to share the experience. This work has been created to be shown in outdoor settings in public places to enable the greatest possible free access to the public.
During the first eight months of its showing in Paris and London it was seen by over 4 million people and with forthcoming venues in Istanbul, London and others yet to be confirmed, it is perhaps the most widely viewed public exhibition on the First War to be created for the centenary period.
Conceived in collaboration with the late Professor Richard Holmes, the renowned military historian, author and broadcaster, it took photographer Mike St Maur Sheil eight years to create the 20,000 images from which this exhibition is selected. It is probably the only centenary exhibition which attempts to illustrate the international nature of the conflict as it covers every theatre of the war witht the exception of Mesopotamia (Iraq). Accordingly, it has already been shown in seven countries and received widespread media coverage around the world.
Above: The Duke of Kent KG on a tour of the exhibtion with photographer Michael St Maur Sheil and Chairman of the Trustees,
Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter. Image: Paul Brown/Mary Evans
The exhibition has been made possible with sponsorship from the Legion, together with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Imperial War Museums, Wecommunic8, The Press Association and Mary Evans Picture Library.
Head of Remembrance at The Royal British Legion, Dr Stephen Clarke, said:
"As the National Custodian of Remembrance, it is only fitting that we help people honour and understand the sacrifices our Armed Forces have made, and continue to make. The tranquil scenes depicted in these images were once raging battle fields where so many gave so much for their country. This remarkable exhibition will offer insight into a conflict that scarred not only lives but also the landscape forever, and the legacy that is left behind a century on."
Photographer and battlefield guide, Michael St. Maur Sheil said:
"The support of The Royal British Legion provides a huge boost for our London street gallery project, helping us introduce the subject of the First World War to audiences who might never normally visit a museum or art gallery, and inviting them to see its battlefields as they are today. To achieve this as a free exhibition, we are reliant on the generous support of the Legion and our other partners.”
Registered charity Fields of Battle 14-18 has developed a unique and engaging touring street gallery exhibition, based not on the horrors of war, but on how over time, nature has healed the battlefields, creating a link between the modern day and the personal dramas and stories these peaceful landscapes now hide.
Fields of Battle - Lands of Peace 14-18 does not seek to explain the history of the First World War, but rather seeks to introduce people to the subject by revealing some of the landscapes of battle and illustrating the stories of the people who experienced those battles.
It does so in a uniquely powerful manner, by bringing these events to people in their own communities via the medium of a touring photographic street gallery featuring the work of Michael St Maur Sheil
Above: The Messines ridge, south of Ypres, had been held by the Germans since 1914 but on the morning of June 7th 1917 the British exploded 19 mines packed with a total of 450 tons of High Explosive under the German lines. More information here
Above: Chemin des Dame, Aisne, The Somme. View from La Caverne du Dragon, southwards over French positions.
Above: Beaumont Hamel, The Somme.
100 years later, every detail of the battlefield of Beaumont Hamel, including trenches and
shell-holes is still visible, showing how naked and exposed the infantry would have felt.
Above: London Irish Rifles - The Loos Football, at Loos en Gohelle, France
Accompanying caption panels detail the historic significance of the main image together with thought-provoking learning points. Using archive photos, maps, poems and infographics, together with moving personal accounts of the Great War, each panel will provide a direct conduit between the contemporary image and the events that took place there 100 years ago.
Click the image above to download a PDF of a typical caption panel corresponding to the exhibition stand image displayed to the right.
Sited in open spaces such as landmark locations, civic squares, memorial sites and busy pedestrianised city centre areas, on a tour of the UK from August 2014, this free-to-the-public street gallery will stand alone in its ability to allow people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures across the UK and Eire to share in the remembrance of The First World War.
Above: One of Michael St Maur Sheil's most iconic images:
Beaumont Hamel - The Somme, where trenches and shell holes are still clearly visible after nearly a century. Click the image above for more information.
Education is a fundamental aim of this project and we are seeking additional funding to create an exhibition developed specifically for schools. This will be accompanied by a range of supporting materials and worksheets for teachers to enable each city to have an educational out-reach programme to better involve students. When visiting the exhibition, children will be encouraged to interact via a fun ‘passport style’ game.
In addition, the exhibition will act as a catalyst for local communities to commemorate the First World War and for local collaborations to take place, whilst actively promoting interactive learning partnerships with, for example: cultural organisations, regiments, businesses and community groups, schools, scouts and guides.