Beaches commemorate end of First World War with stunning sand portraits

Danny Boyle's Pages of the Sea event saw tens of thousands gather around the UK and Ireland including at four locations across NI and Co. Donegal

Photo by Kevin Scott, Belfast Telegraph

On November 11, tens of thousands of people took part in Pages of the Sea – a commission by filmmaker Danny Boyle inviting people to gather on thirty-two beaches around the UK and Ireland for a gesture of remembrance for the men and women who left their home shores during the First World War. The work marks the culmination of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.

  • Pages of the Sea is the largest simultaneous coastal arts project to take place in the UK and Ireland.
  • Taking place on Armistice Day, the project saw tens of thousands of people join in a series of community-led events on thirty-two beaches.

  • Thousands also experienced the project online, watching the activity on the beaches via social media.

  • A new, inclusive and collaborative way to pay tribute to those who gave their lives to the First World War.

On Murlough Beach, County Down from 8.30am the portrait of John McCance from Dundrum, a casualty from the First World War emerged from the sand. And then, as the tide rose at 10.00am, was washed away as the 600 plus spectators took a moment to say a collective goodbye. Click to see more photos from Murlough Beach.

Pages of the Sea Murlough

Kevin Scott, Belfast Telegraph

Port Bán, Dunree beach in Donegal unveiled a stunning large-scale portrait of Seaman John Buckley from County Cork who lost his life, along with 353 others, on the SS Laurentic after it sank at the mouth of Lough Swilly in 1917. See photos from Dunree. Meanwhile other members of the public communed at Portstewart Strand to leave silhouettes in the sand, remembering the millions of lives lost or changed forever by the conflict.

The day finished on Downhill Beach with a large 30m square portrait of First World War Nurse, Rachel Ferguson being completed at 2pm. Rachel was the daughter of John Stewart Ferguson and Annie Ferguson, of Lanebrooke House, Moneymore, County Derry. See photos from Downhill Beach.

The portraits represented a small selection of the millions who gave their lives to the war. The portraits featured across the thirty-two were chosen by Danny Boyle to represent a range of stories – ordinary people who gave their lives to the War effort, from doctors to munition workers, Privates to Lieutenants and Majors. A number of the portraits were of notable war poets, who translated the experience of war for those at home. Many were from the regions or communities they were depicted in, with others from towns, cities and international communities not featured to show the scale of loss.

Poet Carol Anne Duffy was also invited by Danny Boyle to write a poem to mark the centenary of Armistice Day. The poem, 'The Wound in Time', was read by individuals, families and communities as they gathered on the beaches on November 11. Cards were distributed on beaches featuring over 14,000 different images of casualties from the First World War drawn from records held on the Pages of the Sea website, which includes records uploaded by the public. The images were also drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ website, which aims to tell eight million stories of those who served from Britain and the Commonwealth. Visitors to the website have been adding their own portraits of members of their family or community who contributed to the First World War: www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org.

Danny Boyle said: 'Beaches are truly public spaces, where nobody rules other than the tide. They were 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 invited communities to come together and watch as the faces of the fallen were drawn in the sand and to remember the sacrifices they made.'

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said: 'Danny Boyle has devised a truly memorable project – directed and inspired by local communities all around our coastline. Pages of the Sea is a fitting tribute to the millions of men and women who lost their lives in the First World War.

'14-18 NOW extends a huge thank you to Danny Boyle and to all our partners and volunteers who made this project such a success.'

David Lewis, Director of Communications and Digital Content at Nerve Centre said: 'Nerve Centre was delighted to work in partnership with 14-18 NOW, Danny Boyle and our local partners on this new commission. Pages of the Sea encouraged people to reflect on the profound significance of the First World War and its legacy. Around 200,000 men and women from Ireland served over the course of the war, with many thousands leaving these shores never to return.'

Pages of the sea Portstewart

Silhoettes at Portstewart Strand – shot by Cinematic Sky

Pages of the Sea was commissioned and produced by 14-18 NOW and is the culmination of the five-year programme of arts commissions marking the First World War centenary. It was delivered with partner organisations across the UK: National Trust; Activate Performing Arts; Creative Foundation; Eden Project; National Theatre Scotland; Nerve Centre; Sunderland Culture; Taliesin. The work is in association with Aberystwyth Arts Centre; The Grand Theatre of Lemmings; Magna Vitae; MOSTYN; SeaChange Arts; Swansea Council; Swansea University; Theatre Orchard; and Visit Blackpool. Each partner organisation was invited to create their own event centering around the sand art on the beach and reading of the poem, tailored to reflect the sacrifices of their local community. The community engagement programme for Pages of the Sea is supported by the Big Lottery Fund.

Supported by The National Lottery and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

With additional support from Backstage Trust, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and National Rail.