The end of July 2017 marks the centenary of one of the First World War’s most bloody battles. Today, it is difficult for us to envisage the scale of the Battle of Passchendaele in which almost 500,000 men were either killed, injured or simply went missing. In the lead-up to the UK national commemorative events to mark the centenary of Passchendaele, VISITFLANDERS, in conjunction with Westminster City Council, will launch a special artistic interpretation, The Mud Soldier, on Tuesday 25th July 2017 at 8am on the Portico Terrace, National Gallery, London.
Crafted with sand mixed with mud from Passchendaele, Flanders Fields, Belgium, this unique expression of art will be displayed on the North Terrace of London’s Trafalgar Square for just four days. During the course of this time, the Mud Soldier, will slowly dissolve as it is exposed to rain. Nearby, information panels will offer an explanation about its significance in the commemoration of the collective sacrifice of those who fought in this significant battle, known for its atrocious mud.
The Battle of Passchendaele encapsulated a scale of grief that was unprecedented at the time and there was no doubt that the wet conditions that prevailed, were a significant contributing factor in its overall cost. The persistent heavy rain that fell at the time, created thick sludge-like mud. Men and horses drowned in mud-baths during the relentless warfare which resulted in a battlefield territorial gain of just 5 miles. Indeed the shocking conditions were poignantly captured by English poet-soldier Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote: “I died in hell. They called it Passchendaele.”
VISITFLANDERS has commissioned this artistic impression as part of its five year commemoration programme. It is one of the commemorative activities to remember the unique historical significance that the Great War had on this small region of Belgium from 1914-18. The area still attracts thousands of British and Commonwealth visitors, keen to find out more about this period of history which shaped our society today. Andrew Daines, Director of VISITFLANDERS, UK and Ireland said “We hope that this art installation will inspire the visiting public to think about this milestone year in the Centenary of one of the First World War’s most horrific battles. Art can provide more powerfully, the deep emotions brought forward by war and the Mud Soldier represents those feelings in more of a thought provoking way, even stronger than words can express”.
One measure of the scale of the battle is that the Victoria Cross (VC), the Commonwealth’s highest military honour, was awarded no fewer than 61 times in the Battle of Passchendaele; more than in any other conflict. Two of these VC winners were born within the City of Westminster, and both lost their lives on the first day of the battle, 31 July 1917, making Trafalgar Square a fitting place to host the art installation. Made possible by kind permission of Westminster City Council, the Mud Soldier provides a reminder of the bravery of many soldiers during that war.
Westminster’s Armed Forces Champion Cllr Rachael Robathan said: “It was an honour to unveil this sculpture in the heart of Westminster, the home of two brave VC recipients killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
“We will never be able to comprehend the horrific conditions soldiers faced during that battle but this sculpture is a fitting tribute to their sacrifice.
“In four days, this striking artwork will have vanished but it will have made a lasting impression on the thousands of people who visit Trafalgar Square and beyond.”
The Mud Soldier was crafted by the artist Damian Van Der Velden, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Arts of The Hague. Having trained as a professional painter she works in various disciplines with her work being exhibited in Belgium and other European cities. She is also known for her creation of innovative sand sculptures.