The Royal British Legion has launched an ambitious programme calling on communities across Britain to commemorate 100 years since the Battle of the Somme from 1st July to 18th November 2016.
People are being encouraged to organise commemorative events to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, one of the darkest chapters in British military history, during the second year of World War I.
The impact of the Battle of the Somme was felt most heavily on a local level because of the introduction of the ‘Pals battalions’, where groups of friends, colleagues, neighbours and sports teams signed up to fight together. When these battalions suffered losses it was the communities where the young men had come from that lost a generation.
More than one hundred soldiers from Swindon are commemorated on the towering Commonwealth War Graves memorial at Thiepval which records the names of men who fell but were never found to be buried. Ninety five per cent were employees of the GWR Works.
Over the four and half months of bloody fighting, more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed.
To help people hold commemorative events the Legion has created a free toolkit, Remember the Battle of the Somme 1916-2016, in hardcopy and digital download. The kit features a range of items to support people to host public events or take a personal moment of reflection. Complementing the toolkit, the Legion has partnered with Ballista Media and historian Dan Snow to create a free mobile and tablet app featuring over 250 pieces of multimedia content which bring to life key moments from the battle.
The Royal British Legion’s Head of Remembrance, The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch KCVO, said: “This year we are asking communities to host or take part in events to commemorate those who fell at the Battle of the Somme, which has come to symbolise the tragic scale and futility of modern industrialised warfare.
“Our toolkit, the app and indeed every other part of the Legion’s Somme Remembrance activity has been designed to appeal as widely as possible, reflecting the losses that were felt by communities across the UK and Commonwealth. Their collective sacrifice is as relevant today as ever but in this centenary year we pay special tribute to their Service.”
The Legion’s Somme branch will lead daily acts of Remembrance at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France, which commemorates all those missing British servicemen from the battle, from 2nd July to 18th November. Daily services will also take place at the National Memorial Arboretum, the Legion’s year round centre of Remembrance.
A programme of Legion activity will be hosted at the Arboretum including an above ground replica trench to help visitors to imagine what it would have been like at the front line, guided tours to the memorial relevant to the Battle of the Somme, and a mass participation art installation for visitors to contribute to.
The Legion and the Arboretum will run a competition for 100 schools to be gifted a Hornbeam tree sapling from the arboretum, where Hornbeam trees have been propagated from the Somme region. It was recorded at the time that a single Hornbeam was the only tree left standing of the Delville Wood, a site which saw particularly fierce fighting during the battle.
A major outdoor photographic exhibition, sponsored by the Legion, will be installed at London’s Guildhall from 1st June to 18th July. Entitled Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace, the exhibition displays imagery captured by photographer Michael St Maur Sheil of the modern day fields of Picardy which still show signs of the battle waged there a century ago.
On 18th November, on what was the last day of the battle in 1916, sunset services at both Thiepval and the Arboretum will bring commemorations to a close.