On 1st July this year, it will be 100 years since the commencement of what became known as the Battle of The Somme. Today, as we enjoy travelling around Europe, we often pass by the roadside memorials to that period of conflict in our history. In any French or Belgian village, there will be a memorial to the people of that village that left and never returned.
Its easy to become desensitised to these small stone placements. But this figure will perhaps bring home what happened in that period, 100 years ago. 19,240.
19,240. Study that figure for a moment. That’s the number of soldiers killed on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. That’s not the final death toll. This is just a single day. The first day.
Today, those losses would be utterly unthinkable, yet in the months that followed, it became accepted as the norm. 90% of all combat losses in World War One are due to that grim period in European history. A period when no side was particularly glorious and humanity showed it’s grimmer, darker side.
To honour the memory of the 19,240 soldiers who fell on that first day, The British Legion are working with TMB Art Metal to create a fitting tribute. Together they are creating 19,240 Poppy Pins, made from materials recovered from this historic battlefield.
TMB Art Metal will be familiar to collectors of automotive and aviation related memorabilia. Owner Christopher Barrett has experience of working in these areas, having crafted pieces using materials from many historic vehicles and planes, including a Hurricane fighter that famously crashed in London in 1940 following a successful attempt to bring down a marauding German bomber intent on attacking the capital.
The materials used to make the pins are what make them truly special. They are crafted from more than 100 kg of brass taken from British shell fuses salvaged from the Somme battlefield. By taking these fuses and using them to create something of poignant beauty, the Somme 100 Centenary Poppy Pins are turning metal that was forged for the purposes of war into silent tributes commemorating the British soldiers who died at the Somme.
The bright golden coloured pins are finished by a spot of red enamel in the centre of the poppy, and this too pays silent tribute to every British soldier that lost their life at the Somme, as it contains a small amount of earth recovered from the 1 July 1916 British frontline, which stretched for 25 kilometres (18 miles) across the rolling Picardy countryside.
As well as being a poignant tribute to the fallen, the beautiful Poppy Pins will also benefit modern day Service men and women, veterans and their families, as all profits will go to The Royal British Legion.
The project is a labour of love for Christopher. He personally journeyed to Northern France to recover the materials needed for the project.
“To walk along the old front line and find these fuses linked to such an important event in our country’s history is what this project is all about. These men were loyal everyday volunteers, and none of them really understood the situation they were going to be encountering, but all of them – the men who died and who lived – were heroes. This was very much a labour of love, and is a project that has meant a lot to me personally.”
“While holding a piece of a legendary car or plane in my hand is fantastic and a privilege, it is truly humbling to hold a piece of profound history in the form of a shell fuse found on the Somme.”
The next time you’re travelling to a race track or journeying through France on your way to the sunshine, stop and read the inscriptions on some of the memorials in the well kept French villages that you will inevitably pass through. The chances are the names etched there are soldiers from that village who sadly fell in that period.
It is because of the sacrifice of these people that we are able to enjoy the freedom to travel around Europe in such a peaceful manner today.
The Poppy Pins can be ordered online for delivery in May via the British Legion website here. I cannot think of a more worthy and symbolic thing to be wearing the next time I am rolling down the pitlane at Spa or travelling to the Sarthe in summertime.
19,240. Remember that figure.