Somme Centenary News

July 1st–November 18th 2016

Somme Centenary Memorial Service, Thiepval
November 18th 2016
Image credit: BBC News

This page provides a record of major national and international commemorations of the Somme centenary from July 1st to November 18th 2016.

November 18th 2016 marked the centenary of the last day of the Battle of the Somme. Over 2000 people attended a centenary service at Thiepval led by Bishop James Newcome, the Royal British Legion’s national chaplain.

The sounding of the Last Post was followed by a two minutes’ silence. A piper led a military escort to the memorial to lay wreaths  by figures including Earl Howe, deputy leader of the House of Lords.

The Rev Stephen Hancock, chaplain to the Royal British Legion Somme branch, said: “The trees and fields today mask the horror that once came here.

“I pray God that is never repeated and I pray God that the people who died are remembered.”

See below for a summary of key commemorative events held from July 1st up to November 18th 2016.

Overnight Vigils

On June 30th 2016 overnight vigils commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme were held at Westminster Abbey, London, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, Clandeboyne and Helen’s Tower, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, the Welsh National War Memorial, Cardiff, Wales and the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. The Queen led the service at Westminster Abbey which began at 8 p.m. Her Majesty laid a wreath of roses on the grave of the Unknown Warrior. A bugler then sounded the Last Post. The vigil ended at 7.30 a.m. on July 1st.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the service, said: “It is an opportunity to think about the impact of the devastation felt by communities across all of the nations involved, which left mothers without sons, wives without husbands and children without fathers.”

Vigil at Westminster Abbey June 30-July 1 2016
Image courtesy of Westminster Abbey

France: Commemorations July–November 2016

A commemorative service at Thiepval Memorial, attended by thousands, was held on July 1st 2016. Dignitaries attending included French President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister David Cameron, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the Irish president Michael Higgins and representatives of other nations involved in the conflict.  The ceremony included a two minute silence in memory of over a million men from all sides who died or were injured during the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme.

ad_211514417-e1467364585429

Thiepval vigil, image courtesy of metro.co.uk

From 2nd July 2016 The Royal British Legion in partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has hosted a short, daily commemorative service at 12 p.m. at the Thiepval Memorial. The services marked each day of the battle. On the 141st day, November 18th 2016, a more formal service of thanksgiving marked the centenary of the final day.

Specific battles commemorated over 141 days by Commonwealth countries are as follows:

2nd July 2016 Canada: Remembrance Ceremony, Canadian Memorial, Courcelette.

Somme news Canada

Canada commemorates the Battle of the Somme at Courcelette
Image courtesy of www.forces.gc.ca

Canadian troops suffered more than 24,000 casualties on the Somme. During the commemorative ceremony, the Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veteran Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence said: “We have gathered in Courcelette to mark the 100th anniversary of a significant, yet sombre time in our history. We pay tribute to those who fought and those who fell here during the First World War. The story of the Canadians in the Battle of the Somme is one of courage and of devotion to duty. It is the story of tens of thousands who traded their futures for ours.”

2nd July 2016 Germany and France: German War Cemetery, Fricourt

An international commemoration was held at the German war cemetery in Fricourt at the invitation of the German War Graves Commission, the municipality of Fricourt and the Service pour l’Entretien des Sépultures Militaires Allemandes (SESMA), to commemorate the fallen soldiers on the French, German and British sides. Dignitaries included former German President Horst Köhler and Jean-Marc Todeschini, Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance at the French Ministry of Defence. Markus Meckel, President of the War Graves Commission, said: “One of the primary historical factors was the development of the conflict into a material war based on industrial resources. The Battle of the Somme represents the climax of this […] In short, it started as a kind of factory of violence, as efficient as possible and powered by the whole of society. It heralded in an era of excessive violence and totalitarian dictators lasting well into the post-war period.”

10th July 2016 South Africa: Commemoration, Delville Wood.

Delville Wood

Ceremony held at Arques la Bataille, near Delville Wood, July 2016
Image courtesy of www.sapeople.com

During the commemorations marking the first major action fought by South African troops on the Western Front, President Zumba unveiled a new memorial on July 12th honouring all the men who lost their lives at Delville Wood. Under white minority rule, only white South Africans were buried there. Black South Africans who had volunteered for the South African Native Labour Corps and were killed in the conflict are buried elsewhere in French civilian graves. President Zumba said: “The representation of Africans during the war was very minimal and it distorted the important role they played in the various sites of the war … The transformation of the Delville Wood memorial was therefore necessary to ensure that it would reflect an objective, just and authentic South African military history. Let all South Africans stand proud of what the men of Delville Wood of all races sacrificed for their country. Let their ideal be our legacy and their sacrifice our inspiration.” The names of all the fallen are now engraved in alphabetical order on a new commemorative wall at the South African National Memorial in France.

19th July Battle of Fromelles commemorative service.

23rd July Australia: Official Commemorative Ceremony at 1st Australian Division Memorial, Pozières

pozieres 1

Three unknown Australian soldiers buried on centenary of battle
Image courtesy of pozieres hashtag on twitter

Over 1,400 people attended the formal commemorative service at the Pozières memorial on July 23rd. Three unknown Australian soldiers, whose remains were found in recent years, were buried during a military funeral at a Commonwealth cemetery on the same day. Over 6,700 Australians died at Pozières and around 4,000 are still missing. Veterans’ Affairs minister Dan Tehan said the Australian servicemen came: “of a generation where sacrifice had no bounds. It is why we remember here at Pozières today … the legacy. That there was a generation that bestowed on us a belief that there is a need to give of ourselves, for our community and for our nation.”

15th September New Zealand commemoration, Longueval.

ar-309159825

A member of the Maori Cultural Group at the New Zealand Commemoration, Longueval. Image credit: The Assosciated Press.

New Zealand troops, including Pakeha and Maori soldiers, arrived on the battlefields of the Somme in September 1916 and experienced a casualty rate of nearly 60%. 2,111 of the 15,000 men were killed and over 8,000 were wounded in the space of 23 days. Most of the fatalities have no known grave. Hundreds gathered for New Zealand’s commemoration of the Somme on 15th September at Caterpillar Valley Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Longueval, France.

Prince Charles, Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army led ceremonies at the commemoration. He said ‘Standing in this peaceful scene today it is hard to imagine that a century ago this was an infernal, blasted wasteland, which my predecessor, as Prince of Wales, my great-uncle Edward, described as “the nearest approach to hell imaginable” … My hope is today we can re-dedicate ourselves to a future free from intolerance and conflict. We do this in honour of the memory of those who fought and died here so long ago.’

During the dawn service earlier in the day, singer Rebecca Nelson wore a cloak of New Zealand bird feathers, woven in Gallipoli for the occasion. She said ‘I’m singing for my country. The blue feathers represent the oceans crossed by New Zealanders heading to battle … the green and yellow represent the land travelled through Europe by troops and finally the red is the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.’

100 Years Of The Tank: The Battle Of Flers-Courcelette Remembered   Exactly 100 years ago today, the British Army sent tanks into action for the first time at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme offensive, changing the nature of warfare forever. To mark the centenary of the tank and to honour those who made history, the Royal Tank Regiment and the Tank Museum are in Central London to display both the oldest and latest examples of tank warfare. Speaking on the day of the event, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “The tank changed the face of modern warfare. We remember the bravery of those very first tank crews and celebrate the world-leading innovation of our Armed forces. “Those values remain hallmarks of UK defence today. Our armed forces are in action in 25 countries across the globe and we investing in the equipment of tomorrow, including more than £3.5billion on the next generation of armoured vehicles.” As part of today’s events, a replica of a British First World War tank was displayed in Trafalgar Square before moving to Horse Guards Parade where it was joined by the British Army’s latest Challenger 2 tank, crewed by members of The Royal Tank Regiment. During the First World War, to raise funds for the new tanks, the government sent tanks ‘on tour’ around the country. These new ‘wonder weapons’ attracted huge crowds. Trafalgar Square hosted several ‘Tank Banks’ so it is fitting that today it once again played host to a tank crew. The Royal Tank Regiment, which is the oldest tank unit in the world, can trace its roots back to the assault on the 15th September 1916. After that battle the importance of the tank was soon recognised and production increased. During the Second World War the Regiment had as many as 25 battalions fighting all over the world. Since then, the Regiment has been deployed on all major conflicts most recently being involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The original First World War

September 2016 : Tank Corps commemoration

The British Army first used tanks 100 years ago on September 15th 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette during the Somme Offensive. The first tank used in the conflict was designed in 1915 and then produced by William Foster & Co. Ltd of Lincoln. As orders for tanks poured in, the town became proud to be known as ‘tank city’. Tanks went on tour around the country to attract funds for their production; vast crowds gathered in places like Trafalgar Square to admire the new weapon. A hundred years later, the London display of tanks by the Royal Tank Regiment has been one of many commemorative events marking the anniversary of The Somme.

11th November Remembrance Day Parade, Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

11th November Ceremony of Remembrance Newfoundland Memorial Park, near Beaumont Hamel.

13th November Ceremony at Beaumont Hamel to commemorate 51st (Highland) Division.

Commemorating the Somme – find out more

Imperial War Museum

Over five hundred graphic eye witness accounts of fighting on the Somme were released for the first time in November 2016 to mark the centenary. The accounts were collected in the 1960s by the historian Martin Middlebrook and a small number were included in his book ‘The First Day on the Somme’ published in 1971. They have now been donated to the Imperial War Museum by the Felix Fund, in memory of Holly Angharad Davies and are being added to their Lives of the First World War site.

Royal British Legion 

Today, commemorate a fallen solder by visiting Every Man Remembered. The Royal British Legion’s dedicated website pledges to remember by name every one of the 1.1 million Servicemen and women who lost their lives during the conflict. There are already over 200,000 commemorations. Please play your part by helping us remember them all. Go to http://www.everymanremembered.org

National Archives 

“On this, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, we’re pleased to announce that all of our unit war diaries for the Western Front (WO 95) have now been digitised. For the first time you can research every diary, including all that relate to the Somme, and download online. If you would like to share stories of your own Somme ancestor or someone you’ve researched, visit our Facebook page, where we have set up a dedicated post for you to leave a comment.”www.nationalarchives.gov.uk