How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother


How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother
Fold out sleeve, thirty-three postcards, bound-in leaflet, black elastic band
Numbered edition of fifty
148 x 106 x 18 mm
Published 31 July 2016, Negative Press London

At Nunhead Cemetery in south London, the epitath on the headstone of one soldier’s grave stone reads:


“How many hopes lie buried here?” – is a question I repeatedly asked over a ten year period, as I walked past headstone after headstone photographing up close age after age, during visits to cemeteries tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in Belgium, England and in Oosterbeek in the Netherlands, close to where I grew up.

Within the considered design of headstones made of Portland stone, fallen World War I and World War II Commonwealth soldiers are remembered in the same way, irrespective of military rank, race, religion, talents or hopes.

The photographs are presented as a bundle of postcards held together by a black elastic band. The cards are organised in ascending numerical order, showing all ages from eighteen to fifty – every age from the beginning of my adult life to fifty. During these thirty-three years, I feel fortuitous to have materialised some of my hopes and dreams, including the making of this work. What hopes did the men have whose graves I photographed?

How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother is dedicated to Canadian soldier James Carter Irwin (1898-1916) and his mother Jennie Carter Irwin (1871-1925). Mrs Irwin supplied the wording for the epitath that appears on her son’s grave, the title of this project.

Eighteen-year old bank clerk James was wounded on 2 June 1916 in a battle near Sanctuary Wood, Ypres , Belgium and was subsequently transferred to King George Hospital in Stamford Street, London SE1, where he died of wounds on 31 July 1916. He was interred at Nunhead Cemetery on 3 August 1916.

The book was launched at James Carter Irwin’s grave in Nunhead Cemetery in south London on the centenary of his death on the 31 July 2016. In a short speech I remembered him and his mother Jennie Carter Irwin and laid flowers on his grave.

The University of Kent Gateways to the First World War website features an essay about the background to this project (posted 8 December 2016).

Jan Woolf reviewing the book for No Glory In War, writes, “(The work) doesn’t aestheticise war, but it does personalise it, as the artist invites us to reflect on the hopes and dreams any of us may have had at twenty two – thirty three – fifty… ”

Hopes was exhibited at The Library, Dutch Centre, Dutch Church, London EC2N 2HA (11 October to 18 December 2016). I was a guest speaker at the Remembrance Day service at the Dutch Church on 13 November 2016, paying tribute to James and his mother Jennie and anyone affected by war.

I presented a paper about Hopes during Dialogues of the Dead, a day of explorations of life writing and death, 25 May 2018, King’s College, London.

Available from the Negative Press shop

How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother Dutch Centre 2016

Exhibition view (ages 20 to 24), How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother at the Dutch Centre, London

Roelof Bakker How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here 24

‘Age 24’ (Hooge Crater Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium)

Photographed from 2007 to 2016 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery (Oosterbeek, Netherlands), Brockley Cemetery (London), Brompton Cemetery (London), Brookwood Cemetery (Surrey), Hooge Crater Cemetery (Ypres, Belgium), Nunhead (All Saints) Cemetery (London), Mill Hill Cemetery (London), Ramparts (Lille Gate) Cemetery (Ypres, Belgium), Sanctuary Wood Cemetery (Ypres, Belgium), St Pancras and Islington Cemetery (London), Tower Hamlets Cemetery (London), Tyne Cot Cemetery (Ypres, Belgium).

Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Library and Archives Canada (Military Heritage: First World War), Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian Great War Project, In the Ypres Salient, The Story of a Fortnight’s Canadian Fighting, June 2nd to 16th 1916 by Beckles Willson (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co, London 1916).



How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother, unbound photo book, published 31 July 2016

‘Age 18’ (Brompton Cemetery, London)


‘27’ (Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium)

38 Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Roelof Bakker HOW MANY HOPES LIE BURIED HERE MOTHER

‘38’ (Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, the Netherlands)