Saturday 21 July 2018

600,000 clay figures in Ypres mark First World War carnage

Belgium will honour its civilian and military dead with the figures, each about the size of a large fist.

Moulded clay figures are placed in a field that was once a no man's land between the German and British lines of the First World War in Ypres, Belgium (Virginia Mayo/AP)
Moulded clay figures are placed in a field that was once a no man's land between the German and British lines of the First World War in Ypres, Belgium (Virginia Mayo/AP)

By Virginia Mayo, Associated Press

A special remembrance installation of 600,000 crouching clay figures will open to the public soon in Ypres, Belgium, seeking to help visitors reflect on what happened during the First World War a century ago.

Belgium will honour its civilian and military dead with the figures, each about the size of a large fist.

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The figures have already begun to fill a no man’s land between what was once a German and British trench.

Since 2014 students, tourists and others have been creating the pieces in mobile workshops around the world and in the city of Ypres, the site of much carnage during the war.

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Each individual piece comes complete with a dog tag which includes the name of the casualty and the name of the artist who created the piece.

In a sense, it connects the past with the present.

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“Making these pieces is a good way to remember the soldiers who fought in the war. It wasn’t very pleasant for them,” said 12-year-old Bethany Kibutu, a student at the clay workshop in Ypres who lives in Sheffield.

“I know it had to happen, but if we can learn from our mistakes the world could maybe be a better place.”

The installation opens on March 30.

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Belgian rain and mud will weather the figures for eight months before they are finally removed in November and given away.

The last two surviving First World War soldiers who knew the horror first hand – Frank Buckles, from the United States, and Claude Choules, from the UK – both died in 2011.

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The last year of the centenary commemorations is wrapping up in November.

When that is over, current and future generations have to find a way to try to keep remembering beyond the November 11 Armistice Day.

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“Just the creation of these pieces has already brought people together,” said Lotte Moeyaert, co-director of the project.

“We’ve had individuals, families, team-building groups and students all coming in to create the figures in the workshop.”

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“Getting their hands in the clay has made many of them believe they are part of a bigger thing,” she said.

Press Association

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