Their names are engraved on cenotaphs but their images are lost on the sands of time. But at low tide, as the centenary of the armistice is marked next month, they will be etched once more on the coastline.
A monumental but transient nationwide art project will see communities around the country gather on beaches to remember the 16m men, women and children who fell victim to the First World War.
The film maker Danny Boyle, who also created the memorable opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, invited people “to say thank you and goodbye” on November 11 by drawing silhouettes in the sand.
At the centre of the project will be vast portraits of wartime casualties, created on around 30 beaches by the Sand in Your Eye studio in Hebden Bridge. As the tide comes in, the pictures will be washed away.
The studio worked previously on a project at Arromanches beach in Normandy to create 9,000 sand drawings of those who died there during the D-Day landings.
The studio’s artistic director, Jamie Wardley, said: “It’s hugely poignant. You’re drawing pictures in the sand of people, many of whom left from the same shores, and then watching the tide take them away.”
The poet Carol Ann Duffy has been invited by Mr Boyle to compose a new verse, to be read by individuals, families and communities as they gather on the beaches. Copies will be distributed around the UK.
Mourners are being encouraged to personalise their thoughts by selecting a portrait from an online gallery of some of the men and women who served in the conflict.
The images are drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s Lives Of the First World War, which aims to tell 8m stories of those who served Britain and the Commonwealth.
Visitors to the website can also add portraits of members of their own families who contributed to the war effort.
The project, described as an “informal, nationwide gesture of remembrance for the men and women who left their home shores during the First World War”, has been commissioned by 14-18 Now, an arts programme set up to commemorate the war’s centenary.