The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair
The Empty Chair – a gift from Heiligenhaus to Basildon.

Several people have asked me after my last post which you can see here, what was the significance of the large, wooden chair which was positioned in front of the stage during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’.

Although I’ve referred to this as ‘the’ Empty Chair, it is in fact one of three which have been carved by the head forester of Heiligenhaus, Hannes Johannsen. In 2018, one of the Empty Chairs was taken to Lochnagar Crater Ovillers-la Boisselle, between the town of Albert and the village of Pozières on the Somme, France. There was a ceremony at its installation which included the deputy mayors of Heiligenhaus and Meaux and the mayor of Basildon as well as members of the Forget Never Project, from all three towns.

The Empty Chair
Three languages explaining the Empty Chair

The following is the text on the sign at Lochnagar Crater which explains Hannes Johanssen’s original idea.

“The Empty Chair symbolises the void left in so many homes across the world following the immeasurable loss of life during the Great War. It is a poignant reminder to us of the countless lives lost and the suffering of those they left behind.

“The idea for the sculpture was conceived by Head Forester, Hannes Johannsen, from Heiligenhaus, Germany who carved it from the trunk of an oak which fell during a storm in 2016. The tree would have been 20 years old at the start of the war and since it stood close to the road which led to the railway station, many young men would have travelled past it on their way to war – and home again if they returned.

“The Empty Chair is part of the Heritage Lottery-funded Forget Never Project which is a joint initiative between twin towns in England, France and Germany. The chair is located here at the Lochnagar Crater with the kind permission of Richard Dunning MBE.”

Each year, the Forget Never Project will clean and maintain the installation of the Empty Chair and gather around it to remember. In 2019, the date of the ceremony is Sunday November 17 and if you’re anywhere near, why not drop by and see it for yourself and meet some of our team?

Lochnagar Crater was created by a large mine placed beneath the German front lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines from the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle.

The British named the mine after ‘Lochnagar Street’, a British trench where the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers dug a shaft down about 90 feet deep into the chalk; then excavated some 300 yards towards the German lines to place 60,000 lbs (27 tons) of ammonal explosive in two large adjacent underground chambers 60 feet apart. Its aim was to destroy a formidable strongpoint called ‘Schwaben Höhe’ (Swabian Heights) in the German front line, south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département. (Information taken from the Lochnagar Crater website which you can see here)

The second Empty Chair was installed in the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux in 2018 and the chair which was photographed above, in front of the stage in the Aula Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium, Heiligenhaus, during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’, was a gift from the people of Heiligenhaus to the people of Basildon.