On Sunday 11th November, the people of Swansea converged on the beach to witness the drawing in the sand of a portrait of Dorothy Watson – a nineteen-year-old munitions worker who died in July 1917 in an explosion at the National Explosives Factory in Pembrey, Wales. Congregating one of the thirty-two beaches across the United Kingdom where world-renowned film director Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea Armistice Commission took place, the community came together to remember the millions of men and women who fought in the First World War.
Throughout the day, those in attendance had the opportunity to take part in a kite-making workshop, have a poem recited to them by ‘The Emergency Poet’, and listen to a reading of Carol Ann Duffy’s specially commissioned poem The Wound in Time, amongst other activities. Above all else, however, the day provided a chance for the Swansea community and those involved in the drawing of the portrait to collectively pay their respects. Responding to Danny Boyle’s invitation for people to join him on their own beaches around the country “to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day”, one woman and five female students volunteered to help draw the portrait of Watson – the only woman to be drawn on any of the four Welsh beaches.
Ami Marsden – a sculptor based in Swansea whose grandfather fought in the war – spoke of the “true honour” she felt at being chosen to oversee and assist in the drawing – and alluded to the “joy” that this brought her. Those there to witness the drawing – which was washed away by the tide later on in the day to symbolise the passing of the men and women who contributed to the war effort, and represent the collective farewell that was bidden – were equally glad to attend the event. One elderly woman described the event as “lovely”, and added that the commission was an “amazing idea”. The large turnout and the broad range of age groups represented in the crowd indicated the importance of remembering the fallen to so many people – young and old – whether they were personally affected by the losses sustained throughout the war, or just eager to honour those who had died.
The Pages of the Sea provided a poignant reminder of the many soldiers, who, as Duffy writes in her poem, left their communities and gave up their lives: “you gave your world (leaving) the town squares silent”.
By Jonathan Brunton