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National commemorations mark the start of The Battle of the Somme, July 2016

Posted  5 August 2016 in News  
By Liz Robertson
Military Personnel read from letters during a vigil to commemorate the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval memorial. Credit Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing – Vigil

On the evening of 30 June, at Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales attended the commencement of an overnight military vigil to commemorate those who were involved in the Battle of the Somme.

Also present were descendants of those who fought, senior military, representatives of participant nations and faith leaders. The vigil was led by the Chaplain General to the British Army and featured readings from members of the Royal family and serving military. It marked the beginning of an overnight military vigil.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing – 1 July

To commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme 10,000 guests attended Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in northern France on 1 July. Guests included 8,000 British, Irish and French members of the public, representatives of nations which participated in the battle, senior military, faith leaders, politicians and serving military from some of the regiments who fought in the battle.

The service commenced at 12:00 (local time) and featured poetry, music and readings. There were readings from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the President of the French Republic. There were also readings from descendants of some of those who fought in the battle and from actors Jason Isaacs and Charles Dance and music from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. The Memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive, and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves (300 each) lies at the foot of the memorial.

The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932.

Westminster Abbey

On the eve of the battle on 30 June there was a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey attended by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. This was followed by an all-night public vigil around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior – those on watch were drawn from both civilians (including a number of schools) and the military.

The vigil ended in the morning of 1 July and at 07.25am in Parliament Square, three guns from Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired on Parliament Square for 100 seconds. This was followed by a two-minute silence, and then at 07.30am one long whistle blow marked the moment that the men went over the top 100 years ago.

Manchester – site of the UK national commemorations

A significant number of ‘Pals Battalions’ were raised in Manchester and the north of the country, and the ‘industrial north’ made a huge contribution to the war effort. To mark this, on 1 July Manchester hosted a parade consisting of military, Royal British Legion and Home Front organisations followed by a national commemorative service at Manchester Cathedral attended by HRH The Duke of York, KG.

After the cathedral service, a ‘Remembrance Walk’ took place, involving a First World War Wagon, collecting all the memory pieces that have been made as part of the ‘Path of the Remembered’ project, ending at Heaton Park.

Heaton Park was a military training ground for soldiers during the First World War, and Heaton Hall was a hospital. Fittingly the park hosted an ‘Experience Field’ with more than 30 original bell tents. These brought to life the hundreds of stories of nurses, soldiers and factory workers from the Home and Western Fronts.

The cultural event in the evening of 1 July featured a national children’s choir, film, dance and Manchester’s acclaimed Hallé Orchestra. 19,240 tickets were made available for the cultural event, one for each soldier of the British Army who died on the opening day of battle – all were taken up. The event ended at sundown at 21:45.

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