18 November - Remembering 141 Days of Sacrifice on The Somme
18 November 2016
Today, Friday 18 November, we mark the centenary of the official end of the Battle of the Somme after 141 days of bitter trench warfare. Fighting raged throughout the summer and autumn of 1916 at a cost of hundreds of thousands of British, French and German lives.
Even on the last day of battle, 18 November 1916, 1,821 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed.
This human cost is reflected in the hundreds of Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and memorials that lie across the now peaceful Picardy landscape, and in the more than 72,000 names carved on the magnificent CWGC Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval. All are moving testaments to the sacrifice of the Somme.
On Friday, the CWGC Thiepval Memorial will be the setting for “Battle’s End” – a drumhead service conducted by the Royal British Legion (RBL). This will be the 141st service held at Thiepval this year since 1 July.
Those who died on the Somme will also be remembered at the CWGC Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, which is the largest CWGC cemetery in the UK. The service personnel commemorated there include several men who were wounded on the Somme and later died in hospitals in the UK.
CWGC Vice Chairman, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence will be joined by members of community groups who took part in the in the CWGC Living Memory Project throughout the 141 days of the Somme Centenary.
Living Memory encourages people in the UK to rediscover the CWGC cemeteries and memorials in their local areas, and to remember those who gave their lives in both world wars.
CWGC Thiepval App
Following the success of the CWGC War Graves App the free to download CWGC Thiepval App was launched in order to reveal the stories of some of the men who fought and died on the Somme.
It gives users the chance to find specific servicemen who are commemorated on the memorial, helping those who download it to navigate to where a certain name is engraved.
The app also provides 900 personal stories of the battle, a timeline of casualties by year, month and day, and a section containing interesting facts and figures.
Overnight Vigil held at the CWGC Thiepval Memorial
On the eve of commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, a stunning candle lit vigil was held at the CWGC Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
The Vigil began with a short service, attended by members of the Royal Family, senior politicians and casualties’ family members. It was maintained overnight from 10pm until 7.30 am, to mark the exact moment troops first went into battle on 1 July.
1 July: First day of the battle of the Somme
Never Such Innocence Again
No setting could have been more fitting for the solemn commemoration of the Somme anniversary than the grandeur of the CWGC Thiepval Memorial. Lit at night for the first time in its history, the Memorial was the scene of a moving all-night vigil before 10,000 guests arrived to see readings from HRH The Prince of Wales, TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, HRH Prince Harry, President Hollande of France, Prime Minister David Cameron and many well-known actors. It was a memorable day.
CWGC Living Memory Project
The CWGC launched Living Memory in the UK to remember the forgotten front at home -- the 300,000 war graves and memorials in Britain from both world wars -- to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme 1 July 1.
The project encourages community groups to discover, explore and remember the war casualties. Everyone in the UK has at least one CWGC war grave within three miles of their front door.
The CWGC attended a two-day event at Heaton Park, Manchester from July 1 to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. School children watched a reenactment with actors depicting stories from the Somme, while the public were able to browse through some items held in the CWGC’s historic archives, including artefacts found in the fields of the former battlegrounds.
“For goodness sake Horace tell them how old you are”
Horace Iles from Leeds was just one of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was just 16 years old. Back in Leeds, his worried sister Florrie wrote to Horace as the battle loomed. Actress Maxine Peake gave us a heartrending reading of that letter…
Royal British Legion: 141 days
Throughout the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme the Royal British Legion (RBL) have undertaken a daily service of remembrance at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. During that time descendants of those listed on the memorial, organisations and members of the public have been able to pay their respects thanks to this unique daily event.
“You almost don’t want to leave them... those cemeteries are silent witnesses”
Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo has brought the horrors of trench warfare to new generations of readers with acclaimed stories like “War Horse” and “Private Peaceful”. Michael frequently visits CWGC cemeteries and it was a headstone in Bedford House Cemetery that inspired “Private Peaceful”. He spoke to us about why the CWGC cemeteries on the Somme mean so much to him.
It was here that Australian forces fought their first major engagement in the Somme offensive. One hundred years later, a commemorative service was conducted on 23 July at the site of the 1st Australian Division Memorial at Pozières to mark their sacrifice.
Earlier that day the remains of three unknown Australian soldiers were buried with full military honours at the nearby CWGC Pozières British Cemetery - where more than 700 Australians lie buried.
George Butterworth: The Day the Music Died
Every single name carved on the panels at the CWGC Thiepval Memorial represents a life cut short and promise unfulfilled. In many ways, Lt. George Butterworth MC stands for them all. One of Britain’s most promising composers, an expert on folk songs, and a passionate Morris Dancer, George was only 31 years old when he was killed by a sniper on 5 August 1916.
George Butterworth’s haunting music, “The Banks of Green Willow”, was played at Thiepval on 1 July this year, and you can hear it on our video tribute to the composer.
Living Memory Ambassadors
CWGCs Living Memory Project was supported by four well-known faces in the UK – news reporters Kirsty Wark and Nick Owen, Falklands War veteran Simon Weston and actor and comedian, Hugh Dennis. They all urged the people of Great Britain to take part in the Commission’s Living Memory Project and discover, explore and remember those who fell during the wars and are buried in the UK.
Somme Battlefield Companion
September saw the launch of the CWGC Somme Battlefield Companion in order to further highlight the cemeteries and memorials built and cared for by the CWGC following the Somme Offensive.
Published in partnership with Osprey, the weather-resistant battlefield companion explores 30 locations on the Somme.
Complete with suggested driving routes, sites to visit and some of the lesser-known stories surrounding the battlefield, the book is designed to help anyone making the journey during the centenary year and into the future have a better understanding of the Somme battlefield.
His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales and members of the New Zealand government marked the centenary of the first major engagement involving New Zealand soldiers on the Western Front during an event held at CWGC Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.
The New Zealand Memorial at Caterpillar Valley is the largest New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in the world and the second largest cemetery on the Somme. Many family members of the casualties travelled from New Zealand to remember them and other servicemen from around the Commonwealth.
Nine New Zealanders buried at Botley Cemetery in Oxford after being killed in the First World War were remembered in a moving ceremony in October. The High Commissioner for New Zealand, Sir Lockwood Smith, addressed almost 200 people about the importance of commemoration, as part of the CWGC Living Memory Project.
CWGC Living Memory and The FA
The FA and the CWGC Living Memory Project worked together this November to invite every level of football from the County FAs upwards to come together and remember all those buried in CWGC graves in the UK to mark the centenary of The Battle of the Somme.
As part of this initiative, Interim England football team manager Gareth Southgate, Captain Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Daniel Sturridge visited Stapenhill Cemetery in Burton-upon-Trent to learn stories of local fallen heroes. Members of Burton Albion FC's academy were also present.
CWGC promoted at Wembley Stadium
On 11 November, as a result of our ongoing close relationship with The FA, the CWGC was promoted free of charge across several hoardings and screens at the England v Scotland World Cup Qualifier at Wembley Stadium. One of the ads was even visible on the ITV pre-match coverage.
The fixture is the oldest international football fixture in the world, and one of the biggest rivalries so interest and coverage is always high – especially this year because the fixture was held on Armistice Day.
Willesden Royal Visit
His Royal Highness, The Duke of Cambridge, visited CWGC graves in Willesden New Cemetery, London on 10 November, to see the work of Living Memory. The Duke met CWGC staff and talked to community groups who had taken part in the Living Memory Project.
The 141 days of the Somme Offensive may well have come to a close on 18 November, but the CWGC will continue to commemorate those who fell during the battle tomorrow, the next day and thereafter.
We shall commemorate them in perpetuity as we as an organisation head into our one hundredth year.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Alderman
Their name liveth for evermore