As I strolled around the rim of the crater in August 2015 I came across the place were George Nugent’s remains were found in 1998. What of the other men, the other bodies, there must be many? How do you reconcile yourself with such a place? This vast broken landscape, hollow and silent; a receptacle for broken men; a void filled with the sounds of disjointed voices, overheard, whispered, shouting, silenced.
The Lochnagar Crater is strewn with discarded paper poppy petals. The remnants of remembrance events past. The scattering of the petals at the crater is a tradition on 1st July as part of the ceremony held every year at 7.28am to commemorate the moment the mines were blown, the crater created and the Battle of the Somme began.
There is a wooden walkway around the rim, an ordered, organised means to safely navigate the outer edges of the crater. Along this walkway plaques have been placed commemorating men and women who fought or tended the wounded and dying. I viewed the crater from the safe vantage point it provides but I was aware all the time that beneath the duckboards lie discarded poppy petals.
Stepping off the walkway and onto the ground that forms the lip and surroundings of the crater, still bearing the scars of numerous explosions, with its mini craters and undulations I was aware all the time that I was trying not to tread on the discarded poppy petals.
The poppy petals lying in random locations, wherever the wind has blown them, at rest amongst the grass and vegetation, at various stages of decay; eaten, faded, mud covered. Damaged.
To me they spoke of men’s bodies, of lost lives, of hidden remains and silent truths and I had an overwhelming urge to gather them up, mark their location, number and catalogue them so they would no longer be discarded. Their presence recorded.
I set myself the target to collect 100 poppy petals when I visited the crater with the other artists in March. Finding a way to record and map them required some planning and preparation and resulted in a series of artist’s books that are titled ‘Aftermath’. The first book created to act as the storage and numbering of the petals. Each one being carefully placed within its numbered pockets.
The second book opens to reveal a carving of the crater, based on my memory of it from my first visit in 2015. The carving honed out of the pages of the book acted as the map for marking the location of each poppy I collected with a red dot. I tried to collect poppies from all parts of the crater, from the basin, around the rim, the lip and the edge of the fields that would still contain displaced soil and chalk when the mines were blown. There are eye witness accounts of a large number of German soldiers being found buried alive in a bunker found at the crater’s edge, and of the bunker being sealed and the bodies left behind, still there now. From a location close to where it is believed the bunker might have been I collected the largest number of petals. All 100 carefully stored and recorded and brought back home to my studio.
Dawn Cole, 6th June 2017