Thursday, 2 December, 2021

Queen leads Somme centenary remembrance events

Queen leads Somme centenary remembrance events
A wreath was laid at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, where a vigil is being held

The Queen has led events to mark 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, as overnight vigils got under way on the eve of the anniversary.




Services have been held in Westminster Abbey in central London and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.




At a vigil in France, the Duke of Cambridge paid tribute to the fallen soldiers, saying "we lost the flower of a generation".




On Friday at 07:28 BST a two-minute silence will mark the battle's start.




It will be followed by events in the UK and near the World War One battlefields in France.




The Battle of the Somme, one of World War One's bloodiest, was fought in northern France and lasted five months.




The British and French armies fought the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a 15-mile front.




In total, there were more than one million dead and wounded on all sides.




The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Westminster Abbey service. She laid a wreath of flowers on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, where an overnight vigil is taking place.




The tomb holds an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield, brought back and buried in the abbey to honour the unknown dead of the war.




The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, said the legacy should be that people worked towards reconciliation to ensure children never endured what the soldiers of World War One faced.




Society must strive to reach an accord and reject "those who would stir up hatred and division," he said.




Prime Minister David Cameron, who also spoke at the service, his wife Samantha and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were among other figures at the service.




The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry paid their respects in France, attending a vigil at the Thiepval Memorial, located close to the battlefields of the Somme, near Amiens in the north of the country.




Prince William spoke of European governments "including our own" who failed to "prevent the catastrophe of world war".




"We lost the flower of a generation; and in the years to come it sometimes seemed that with them a sense of vital optimism had disappeared forever from British life," he said.




"It was in many ways the saddest day in the long story of our nation."




Prince Harry also spoke at the event, reading the poem Before Action, by Lieutenant WN Hodgson of the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, who wrote it days before he was killed in action on 1 July 1916.




Before the vigil, the three royals climbed to the top of the huge, newly renovated monument designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to view the battlefield.




Some 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated at the memorial.



Earlier, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "As we imagine the feelings of those preparing for battle, the vigil will allow us to reflect on the cruel effects of warfare and to pray for lasting peace and justice in the world."




Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones joined members of the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force for the start of a vigil at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.




"Those who fought bravely for our futures should never be forgotten," he said.




In Scotland, an overnight vigil is being held at the National War Memorial.




A whistle, which was sounded to lead men over the top, will be blown by Scots soldier Alan Hamilton at 07:30 BST to mark, to the minute, 100 years since the battle began. The whistle belonged to his great uncle.




And in Northern Ireland, a vigil is being held at the Somme Museum at County Down, near Newtownards. A guard of honour, which includes serving soldiers, will be present throughout the night.