Thousands of volunteers took part in a UK-wide event on Friday 1 July 2016, as a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. 19,240 men were killed on the first day of the battle in 1916 – the bloodiest day in British military history.

‘we’re here because we’re here’ saw around 1400 voluntary participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed on that day one hundred years before.


“I wanted to make a contemporary memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one that moved around the UK with an unpredictability in which the participants, by their actions, took the memorial to the public.”

– Artist Jeremy Deller

The participants wore historically accurate uniforms, representing 15 of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle. The soldiers did not speak, but at points throughout the day would sing the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’, which was sung in the trenches during the First World War. They handed out cards to members of the public with the name and regiment of the soldier they represented, and, where known, the age of the soldier when he died on 1 July 1916.

Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed on that day. The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one.

The daylong work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the width and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Plymouth. Sites they visited included shopping centres, train stations, beaches, car parks and high streets – taking the memorial to contemporary Britain and bringing an intervention into people’s daily lives where it was least expected.

“This work by Jeremy Deller is a truly national piece of theatre and is a powerful way to remember the men who went off to fight 100 years ago. I also hope it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen ties with theatres and communities across the UK.”

– Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre

The volunteers were men aged between 16-52, reflecting the men who would have fought in the Somme. They were not trained actors but come from a range of professions, including a sheep farmer, flight attendant, doctor, lawyer, social worker, shop assistant, portrait artist and GCSE student. They came together to rehearse in theatres across the UK over a month-long period in the run-up to the performance. ‘we’re here because we’re here’ is one of the largest arts participation projects ever staged in the UK, with hundreds of additional volunteers working behind the scenes.

The project breaks new ground in terms of its scale, breadth, reach and the number of partners and participants involved. Over a year in its planning, ‘we’re here because we’re here’ involved over 2000 participants including those in uniform and hundreds more working behind the scenes. The volunteers worked for weeks under the strictest secrecy to ensure the performance was delivered in a powerful and unexpected way. This is the first time the three national theatres have worked together on a joint project, and the first time so many theatres have worked together on a UK-wide participation project.

“Taking part in ‘we’re here because we’re here’ has given hundreds of young people across the UK the chance to find out more about the Somme, and in some cases discover the stories of family members who fought in the war. Working alongside brilliant artists, directors and theatres on this astonishing project has been an experience they will never forget.”

– Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW

WATCH a short film about ‘we’re here because we’re here’

Discussing this unique event on Monday 11 July at the National Theatre, Jeremy Deller, Rufus Norris, Director of 14-18 NOW, Jenny Waldman and Senior Associate Director, Emily Lim explored its conception, journey and delivery with Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent for the BBC.