World War I: Ballot launched for Battle of the Somme centenary commemoration

'The Battle of the Somme took the lives of soldiers from almost every city, town and village across our country and we will remember them'

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Thousands of people, including the descendants of First World War veterans, are to be given a chance to be part of the centenary commemorations of one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict.

A ballot has opened for members of the public who want to join the official Battle of the Somme commemoration next year.

The operation, which began on 1 July, 1916, was meant to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French but became a bloody stalemate on battlegrounds that, after torrential rains in October of that year, turned into a quagmire.

More than one million men died in the battle, which raged for 141 days on both sides of the River Somme. The first day was the worst in the history of the British Army, with 60,000 casualties of whom 20,000 were dead.

Some 8,000 free tickets will be allocated in pairs for the event on 1 July next year at Thiepval in northern France, where a memorial stands to more than 72,000 soldiers killed in the battle who have no known grave.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said as he launched the ballot: “The centenary event in Thiepval will be an opportunity to pay tribute to those who sacrificed so much at the Somme and ensure that their legacy continues for generations.

“Now that the ballot is open, I hope people will apply for tickets for what I believe will be an incredibly important and deeply moving event.

“But this is not just about Thiepval; the events at the Battle of the Somme left a deep mark on the nation. Almost everyone in the UK will have an ancestor who fought or died at the Somme.” 

He said it was important for everyone to have the chance to remember and honour the sacrifices made, and the Government would be announcing a programme of events in the UK to mark the centenary.

The Thiepval event will also be televised on public screens across the UK. 

Other events will be conducted in France next year, including a vigil at Thiepval on 3 June, a small event every day from 2 July to 18 November to mark each day of the battle. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: “The First World War, with that mixture of horror and courage, suffering and hope, has become a fundamental part of our national consciousness.

“Nothing brings home the sheer scale of the sacrifice and loss more starkly.”

Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson, president of The Royal British Legion, said: “The Battle of the Somme took the lives of soldiers from almost every city, town and village across our country and we will remember them.”

The ballot will be open until 18 November this year.