Ministers attacked for 'poor show'

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The Government and Ministry of Defence were under fire from veterans for their "poor show" at today's service to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

Both John Major and Michael Portillo , Secretary of State for Defence were said to be "too busy" to attend the ceremony in Thiepval this morning where Somme veterans will gather to remember the dead of the bloodiest battle in British military history.

Baroness Thatcher told the Sunday Telegraph that she found it "completely incredible that a British defence minister should not personally represent the armed forces". Instead, Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will represent the Government.

Ted Rimmer, 97, who fought in France with the King's Liverpool Regiment from 1917, said: "I think they should have sent someone important, the Home Secretary made it to Dover to see us off so why couldn't he make it over here?

"It is a unique occasion isn't it? I think it's a poor show. I can't say I'm angry, I'm more disappointed than angry."

Steve Goodwin, Chairman of the First World War Veterans Association said: "To the Veterans themselves it is more important that their friends and families are around them.

"We would agree that if the Government are going to send somebody it should be somebody important. We have rescued a lot of these men from obscurity and a lot of them will be going back to live on their own or in nursing homes and for one or two in poverty.

"Those are the matters that should be addressed rather than whether we get a handshake or two from a member of the Government."

Others were more forgiving. Donald Hodge, aged 101, said: "We didn't ask for any rewards at the time and we're not going to ask for them now.

I have some sympathy with what Baroness Thatcher said but we don't expect a fuss."

Told the next official anniversary was in 2016, he added: "Well, I always live in hope."

An Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Apparently it is usual that only the 50th, 75th and 100th anniversaries are official commemorations."