600,000 clay figures to remember carnage in WWI

YPRES, Belgium — A special remembrance installation of 600,000 crouching clay figures is opening to the public soon in Ypres, Belgium, seeking to help visitors from around the world reflect on what happened during World War I a century ago.

Belgium will honor its civilian and military dead with the figures, each about the size of a large fist. The figures have already begun to fill a no-man's-land between what was once a German and British trench.

Since 2014, students, tourists, and others have been creating the pieces in mobile workshops around the world and in the city of Ypres, the site of much carnage during the war. Each individual piece comes complete with a dog tag which includes the name of the casualty and the name of the artist who created the piece. In a sense, it connects the past with the present.

"Making these pieces is a good way to remember the soldiers who fought in the war. It wasn't very pleasant for them," said 12-year-old Bethany Kibutu, a student at the clay workshop in Ypres who lives in Sheffield, England. "I know it had to happen, but if we can learn from our mistakes the world could maybe be a better place."

The installation opens on March 30. Belgian rain and mud will weather the figures for eight months before they are finally removed in November and given away.

The last two surviving World War I soldiers who knew the horror first hand — Frank Buckles from the United States and Claude Choules from the UK — both died in 2011

The last year of the Centenary commemorations is wrapping up in November. When that's over, current and future generations have to find a way to try to keep remembering beyond the Nov. 11 Armistice day.

"Just the creation of these pieces has already brought people together," said Lotte Moeyaert, co-director of the project. "We've had individuals, families, teambuilding groups and students all coming in to create the figures in the workshop."

"Getting their hands in the clay has made many of them believe they are part of a bigger thing," she said.

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Raf Casert contributed.

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