Remembering the fallen at Salisbury Cathedral

THE centenary of the end of the First World War will be the focus of We Remember Them: Armistice at Salisbury Cathedral, with art installations, films, a concert, tours, and a Shakespeare production, throughout November and starting on 25th October.

The events to mark the dead of both wars will include a Royal British Legion poppies installation on the West Front of the Cathedral over the Armistice weekend. The magnificent west end of the Cathedral will be illuminated by a gigantic and evocative colour projection of ‘tumbling poppies’. It will be switched on by the Dean of Salisbury, Canon Nick Papadopulos, at 6.30pm on Thursday 8th November and will light up at sunset and run until 10.30pm until Sunday 11th.

On the eve of the Armistice Day centenary (Saturday 10th), Benjamin Britten’s epic War Requiem will be performed by Salisbury Musical Society and the Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral, accompanied by the Chelsea Opera Group Orchestra with soloists Alwyn Mellor (soprano), Mark Wilde (tenor), and Julien Van Mellaerts (baritone), with David Halls, Salisbury Cathedral’s director of music conducting.

The War Requiem was commissioned for the opening of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962. It is both a personal response to war and the loss of friends in battle, and a larger and more political statement about war by Britten, who was a lifelong pacifist. Just as the two Coventry Cathedral buildings sit side by side, a stark reminder of the past and a beacon of hope for the future, Britten interspersed words from the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead with poetry by Wilfred Owen, who was killed in France just a week before Armistice Day 1918.

On the title page of the original score Britten quoted Owen:
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity …
All a poet can do today is warn.

On Armistice Day itself there will be a special Eucharist incorporating the two-minute silence.

Across the North Quire Aisle, in the Morning Chapel, an outreach exhibition will bring together two of the most potent symbols of Remembrance – red poppies and puttees (the lower leg wrappings, worn by soldiers in two World Wars). Binding the Past to the Present Through Remembrance, on show from Thursday 25th October until Sunday 25th November is a Heritage Lottery funded project by local artist Suzie Gutteridge with Salisbury Cathedral’s Outreach team. It was inspired by puttees given to her by her late father, a former soldier.

Working with 15 community groups and volunteers to make the red felt, shape the poppies and build the artwork, Suzie has created a display of 100 poppy-covered puttees for the Cathedral. The puttees used were made by Fox Brothers and Co Ltd, a Somerset based company that supplied 8,000 miles of khaki cloth for clothing and 70,000 pairs of puttees per week for soldiers in the field during the Great War. The company is still in business today.

A partnership between BBC Wiltshire and the Cathedral to provide a series of films that will be shown on the Cathedral Cloister screen includes a community performance of Ivor Novello’s Keep the Home Fires Burning (first published in October 1914), and a guide to some of the stories behind the Cathedral’s World War 1 memorials, including the wooden crosses on the Cloister walls.

On Friday 2nd November from midday in the Morning Chapel there will be a reading of the Royal Regiment of Artillery Roll of Honour from the First World War by serving soldiers – believed to be the first time this has ever taken place, the soldiers will read out the names of 49,076 artillerymen who died in battle.

The part played by Royal Army Chaplains’ Dept (RAChD) in conflict is explored in a display of banners in the South Transept. Artefacts dating from the period and original art work depicting the conflict will also be on show. Serving chaplains will be present over the weekend, from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th November to discuss the historical contribution of military chaplains and their roles in modern day Service life.

In the week leading up to Armistice Weekend the theatre company, Antic Disposition, is putting on a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Played in First World War costume, the performance moves effortlessly between 1415 and 1915, combining Shakespeare’s epic history play with original songs inspired by the poetry of AE Housman. The production is a powerful tribute to the young soldiers caught up in two conflicts five centuries apart. Performances take place nightly on Monday 5th November, Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th at 7.30 in the Cathedral.

Pictured: Suzie Guttridge leads a community group working on Binding the Past to the Present and Salisbury Musical Society, photographs by Ash Mills; some of the First World War crosses in the Cloisters, Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V.