11/11/11 Sculpture - Background

The small gauge rails used in my 11/11/11 Sculpture known as 2ft gauge, came from the surplus of the 1st World War. They would have been used for the likes of tunnelling and to link up the main railheads at the rear with the front lines. After the war they were used to build railways like the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch line until worn beyond safety limits, when they are then scrapped.

I have been working with all sizes of railway line for many years now so the motif of 11/11/11, and the stories of the letters and Lt Freeman told in my online page of the Art Trail have been lurking around in my head for a long time, but it was not till the death of my brother this year that, for me, they all lined up.

On working with the piece, the recognition of the Armistice of 1918 (which took place onboard a railway carriage in a forest ) and the date on the Lieutenant’s plaque began to thread themselves into the Sculpture.

On 29th Sept 1918, two days after Lt. Freeman was killed, the German High Command fearing that they could not guarantee to hold the front for another 24hrs, demanded a request be put to The Allies for an immediate ceasefire.

About two weeks later the Allied Generals were photographed parading through the centre of Cambrai. The enemy was on the retreat, desertion was on the increase, and moral was running low. The end of the war was in sight.

It took however a further four weeks of political posturing and negotiating to agree the Armistice, and in that time many thousands died. Intense warfare continued up until the last moment. Even after hearing that the Armistice was due to start at 11.am. many Artillery units continued to offload their shells on German targets, producing almost 11,000 casualties, of which 2,738 died on the last day of the war.

The stories of the last deaths reported of the various nationalities are well documented, heartbreaking, and tragic. However deaths continued from the casualty lists, and the Armistice was not the end of the war for everyone. Many of the soldiers returned wounded and/or unable to work, many returned to poverty, and many were just unable to cope having gone through the experience of war. It was now the unenviable task of their loved ones who had waited back home to pick up the pieces.

Of the estimated 22,000 men from Waltham Forest that fought in WW1, there are records of 2215 deaths, and I would like to point you to the work of the Walthamstow War Memorial site where you can access further information and details of those:   http://www.walthamstowwarmemorial.co.uk/index.html