Artist’s book of Flanders dead goes on display in Dublin

Val Carmen’s ‘Assembly’ has 1,216 pages and lists those whose died around Ypres in WW1

The book of the Flanders dead from the first World War lists the names of 174,000 British soldiers, of whom 12,000 were Irish, Ronan McGreevy reports.

 

The book of the Flanders dead from the first World War is a weighty tome given the scale of the tragedy involved.

It lists the names of 174,000 British soldiers, of whom 12,000 were Irish, who fought and died around the Belgian town of Ypres in the first World War.

The scale of Irish death in the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, 100 years ago, is only now becoming apparent.

Flanders Fields, the museum and research facility in Ypres, estimated that 4,900 men listed in a memorial to the Irish dead collated in 1922 were killed in Flanders between June 1st and November 10th, 1917, the end of the Battle of the Passchendaele.

The two Irish divisions, the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division, had 1,175 men killed on a single day, August 16th, 1917, during a disastrous assault on fortified German positions near the village of Frezenberg.

By contrast, the two divisions sustained just 369 fatalities, a low number by the standards of the first World War, during the successful assault on Messines Ridge on June 7th, 1917.

They are all listed in the book which was created by English artist Val Carmen and is entitled Assembly.

The book gives only the name, rank, regiment and date of death for each man yet runs for 1,216 pages with 240 names on every page.

It takes two people to lift it into place. The names are listed on the left-hand side. The right page is literally a blank sheet in which the public are invited to write something about a relative who died in the conflict.

Empty chairs

The book is accompanied by five chairs from St Audomarus Church in Passchendaele, a church destroyed during the first World War. The chairs are meant to symbolise the empty places left in many homes as a result of the war.

The book is touring Britain and Ireland and is currently on display in Dublin City Council’s Pearse Street library. It will also be available to view in Dublin City Hall and in Richmond Barracks, Inchicore, where one of the most famous Irish men listed in the book, Francis Ledwidge, trained before departing for the front. He was killed on the first day of Passchendaele, July 31st, 1917.

Among those who have written in it are Dublin City Council senior librarian Tara Doyle. Three of her great-grand uncles signed up to fight in the war and two, Peter and William Doyle, were killed in Flanders. By the time the book arrived in Dublin, she found somebody had already paid tribute to Peter Doyle. “This is the powerful resonance of this book – collectively remembering our dead relatives,” she said.

The Belgian ambassador Philippe Roland described the book as being of “tremendous importance. I would suggest all those who are interested in the first World War and who are interested what your countrymen did in my country should pay a visit to this fantastic exhibition.”

The book is available to view during opening hours at Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse Street from March 4th to 30th; in City Hall, Dame Street, from April 1st to 29th; and in Richmond Barracks, Inchicore, from May 13th to 26th.