Ashville students and staff unveil remarkable poppy memorial on Somme anniversary

Poppy memorial from a drone (S)
Poppy memorial from a drone (S)

Students and teachers at Ashville have unveiled a vivid memorial from poppies to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme.

In July, Ashville received £6,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the ‘World War 1 Commemoration’ project, awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme.

The art installation is the first part of the project, which will continue next year with the development of a replica trench to be used for education for the school and local community.

The pupils from Ashville College are planting 19,240 poppies – one for every man that died on the first day of the Somme - in the school grounds to create a path of remembrance based on an aerial photograph of the Western Front taken at the time.

The art installation is the brain child of Simon Brook, the College’s Head of Art, and is one of a series of school-wide events being held to mark the centenary of the battle.

Between 1914 and 1918, 40 pupils and teachers from Ashville College, New College and Elmfield College were killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1 1916, and ended four and-a-half-months later.

The art installation – which takes the form of a narrow passageway - began on Friday, when, after the traditional Armistice Day service at the school’s cenotaph, the entire school planted commemorative crosses on the school field, replicating the arrangement of the front line trenches.

Mr Brook said: “The Battle of the Somme is one of the most traumatic events in Britain’s history.

“This artwork is as much about the considered participation in its creation as the outcome.

“The installation is engaging the whole Ashville community in creating a thought provoking and memorable piece of work that bears witness to the soldiers who died on the first day, including the alumni of our school.”

It has been added to this week by art classes and volunteers, who have planted the poppies.

As part of a central theme of claustrophobia in the trenches, visitors to the installation walk in single file past the thousands of poppies and crosses.

Work on the installation ends on Thursday, when the school will hold a Somme commemorative service to be attended by civic and military dignitaries as well as representatives of the British Legion.

Bob White, Chairman of the Richmond Branch of the Royal British Legion, who has been supporting the College with their Somme Commemorations said: “I am delighted to have been able to help Ashville in their commemoration activities this term.

“To see the whole College community stopping to remember the fallen, and to mark the Somme in such a poignant way, really is quite special.”