The artist had initially declined the invitation to contribute a piece to the exhibition. Part of her work, which, as a writer and artist, she sees as an aspect of her desire to tell stories, is knitting a response to what’s happening on the news. She felt that the First World War was too serious a subject for her to address, but, after an extensive tour visiting the War Cemeteries in the Somme, she was moved and inspired to accept the offer.
Maille appealed, via her blog delitmail.blogspot.com, for help from interested volunteers in the task of knitting a collection of miniature soldiers representing the French War Dead, but quickly realised that there was a desire from many to include their own lost countrymen, and subsequently enlisted 500 knitters out of around 1500 volunteers from around the world, including France, Germany, Great Britain, China, India, Newfoundland and Belgium.
Each knitter received a pack in the post including patterns and wool, and a request for a specific piece of uniform - coats, hats, trousers, rucksacks; an average of ten knitters worked on each soldier. Maille supervised the knitting of the soldiers themselves which were made locally, and also met and knitted with volunteers across France (at events named Woolstock), at which they discussed what the work would mean to them. Finally she assembled the soldiers.
One line of figures represents the men from Newfoundland. Maille told me she was particularly touched, on visiting the Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park, 9k from Albert, to learn what had happened to them. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, no unit suffered heavier losses than the Newfoundland Regiment. They had gone into action 801 strong; roll call the next day revealed that the final figures were 233 killed or dead of wounds, 386 wounded, and 91 missing. Every officer who went forward in the Newfoundland attack was killed or wounded. Young Canadian volunteers spend a year guiding visitors around the Park, telling the men’s stories. I promised to send Maille details of one more brave Newfoundlander, George Furey. Who knows, it may move her to knit the story of George and HMS Firedrake.