A MOVING tribute to the men of Penshurst who laid down their lives during the First World War has gone on display in the village church.
In honour of the fallen, 51 life-size, clear Perspex silhouettes of the servicemen were created and placed along the pews as part of an installation titled ‘There, but not there’.
The installation opened on Tuesday November 1 to mark the day Penshurst lost its first man in the war, in 1914. He was Able Seaman Ernest Chandler, who perished in the Battle of Coronel, off the coast of central Chile.
The idea was proposed at the start of the year by photographer Martin Barraud, a member of the Friends of Penshurst Church, which was set up in 2009 in order to raise £700,000 to refurbish and repair the church – a process now largely complete.
Mr Barraud’s concept was enthusiastically embraced by other members of the group and by the Rector of St John the Baptist Church in Penshurst, Rev Tom Holme.
The silhouettes are modelled on four photographs the Friends of Penshurst Church found of First World War soldiers sitting in uniform.
Different elements from each of the photographs were then combined, while the size was modelled on someone sitting in the pews.
Before the opening ceremony, children from the local school were invited to view the display and place poppies and Perspex blocks inscribed with the names of the dead in front of the silhouettes.
Those who were related to each other, such as the Yeoman brothers and the three Hardinge cousins, were placed together. The youngest to fall, Private Noel Baker, aged 17, has a slightly smaller silhouette than all the others.
The public viewing was attended by more than 100 visitors, including Lady De L’Isle of Penshurst Place and the nephew of Private Baker.
In his opening speech Mr Barraud suggested the guests reserved the formal minute’s silence until Remembrance Sunday, but instead asked that they return over the next two weeks and ‘find their own silence’ with the men. It was followed by a ‘Toast to Absent Friends’ and three cheers for the men.
Describing how he felt now the display was on show, Mr Barraud said: “When the installation was finally ready, we had the schoolchildren in to place the blocks and poppies.
“But when they had gone, and all the people helping had gone, I found myself alone with the men in a very silent church. It was at that point that it all came home to me. What really resonated was how many 51 people are when you see them sitting there.”
The church is open during daylight hours including weekends and the installation runs until November 14. All visitors are welcome.