“Words fail me on a day like today, but it makes me feel proud to be from Sunderland” - the poignant statement from veteran Len Gibson, 98, as he gathered with thousands of others at Sunderland’s Pages of the Sea event.
Roker Beach was one of a handful of beaches nationally to be chosen for director Danny Boyle’s striking poignant art work. The central portrait of the event, which is commissioned by 14-18 NOW to mark the centenary of Armistice Day, was of fallen Houghton soldier 2nd Lt Hugh Carr who died in the Ypres salient in January 1916 when a German shell landed near his trench.
Elsewhere on the beach, visitors made silhouettes in the sand of Forces Personnel whilst music was provided by a community choir led by Catherine Stephens, of The Cornshed Sisters, as well as performances from Easington Colliery Band.
Visitors could also listen to recordings of a specially written poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, called The Wound in Time. World War II hero Len was one of those to lend his voice to the recording.
Len from West Herrington was among 600 soldiers from Sunderland’s 125 Anti-Tank Regiment taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942. He survived unthinkable conditions in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, but those who weren’t fortunate enough to return home have never left him.
“I watched my friends die, and I remember them every day of every month, not just in November,” he said. “To see all these people turn up in their thousands today does my heart good.”
Pages of the Sea was delivered by Sunderland Culture. Rebecca Ball, creative director at Sunderland Culture, said: “It’s been an incredibly moving event. The amount of attention paid to Armistice Day nationally this week has been extraordinary and it’s lovely that Sunderland has played such a prominent role in a national event.
“Today is a chance for people to think about what Armistice means to them and Hugh Carr is a symbol of countless men and women who died during the war.”
Keith Merrin, chief executive at Sunderland Culture, said: “We know that Remembrance Day is such an important part of the calendar for people in Sunderland. The civic event in the city centre is always well attended and we knew this informal event would be embraced too. Arts and culture are a brilliant way to explore important issues such as peace, loss of life and war, and thousands have come along today to pay tribute and reflect.
“It’s been an incredible event to be a part of and all the artists and volunteers have done an amazing job.”
The sand silhouettes were in place for around three hours before they were washed away by the tide to honour those who never returned to their home shores.