Battle of the Somme to be marked with two-minute silence

The battle started on July 1 1916, and became the bloodiest in British military history with almost 20,000 dead

David Wilcock,Jemma Crew
Thursday 30 June 2016 08:14 BST
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There was a seven-day artillery bombardment of the German lines before the offensive
There was a seven-day artillery bombardment of the German lines before the offensive (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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The country will hold a two-minute silence to honour those who fought in the Battle of the Somme 100 years on, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

The Queen and senior royals will lead the nation in remembrance to mark the centenary, which falls on Friday.

Events across the UK and in France will commemorate the start of the battle on July 1 1916, a day that became the bloodiest in British military history with almost 20,000 dead.

Mr Cameron told MPs during Prime Minister's Questions: "This week marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

"There will be a national two-minute silence on Friday morning. I will be attending a service at the Thiepval Memorial near the battlefield, and it's right that the whole country pauses to remember the sacrifices of all those who fought and lost their lives in that conflict."

By the end of the four-month battle in northern France, more than a million soldiers had been killed and wounded on both sides of the fighting. The First World War would drag on for another two years.

At Westminster Abbey in London, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will join the congregation for an evening vigil on Thursday, the eve of the anniversary of the start of the battle. Other overnight events will take place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will attend evening events at the Thiepval Memorial in France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.

The events include a climb to the top of the huge, newly renovated structure, which will be lit for the first time, to view the killing fields. There is to be a military vigil and a meeting with representatives of nations involved in the battle.

On Friday they will be joined by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and 10,000 members of the public, including hundreds of schoolchildren, chosen by ballot, for a service of commemoration.

Charles and Camilla will then attend ceremonies for Northern Irish and Canadian victims of the battle at the nearby Ulster Tower and Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, respectively.

Camilla will also lay a wreath at the grave of her great-uncle, Captain Harry Cubitt, who was killed on the Somme in September 1916 while serving with the Coldstream Guards. He was the eldest, and the first, to die of three brothers killed serving on the Western Front.

Beginning on July 1 1916, the Battle of the Somme was intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French against Germany's forces.

The British Army was forced to play a larger than intended role after the German attack on the French at Verdun in February 1916.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme became the bloodiest in British military history with more than 57,000 casualties recorded - of these 19,240 were fatalities.

Among the worst hit were the Pals battalions, volunteer units of limited fighting experience. Many were told to walk slowly across no man's land, resulting in massive numbers of dead as they headed straight into German machine gun fire.

The 2,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Bradford Pals, both part of the West Yorkshire Regiment, suffered 1,770 casualties in the first hour of the offensive as they attacked the heavily fortified village of Serre.

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