Westminster Abbey in London is taking the rare step of staying open through the night for the Somme Centenary Vigil (Photo: Centenary News)

Vigils tonight mark eve of Somme Centenary

Posted on centenarynews.com on 30 June 2016
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Vigils take place across Britain tonight to reflect on the hours leading up to the start of the Battle of the Somme a century ago.

National ceremonies will be held in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and in County Down, Northern Ireland.  

Queen Elizabeth's attendance at a service in Westminster Abbey this evening is being televised, together with international commemorations at the Thiepval Memorial in France on the eve of the Somme Centenary.

The formal ceremonies remembering all those who fell in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War will be accompanied by many community tributes in cities, towns and villages around the UK. See the Somme UK Commemoration Guide for details. 

The vigils culminate in a nationwide two-minute silence at 7.28am tomorrow, marking the moment when the first troops went 'over the top' on July 1st 1916. 

Four months of fighting on the Somme in 1916 cost more than a million British, Commonwealth, French and German casualties (soldiers killed, wounded or missing).

Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day alone, and 38,000 were wounded or unaccounted for.

Tonight's national vigils:

*Westminster Abbey, at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, from 8.45pm (following the invitation-only service attended by Queen Elizabeth). Doors will be open to the public overnight until 7.15am on Friday July 1st.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "The sacrifice of many thousands of lives in a battle which ultimately failed to achieve any serious breakthrough stands as a reminder of the suffering and loss involved in the First World War.

"As we imagine the feelings of those preparing for battle, the vigil will allow us to reflect on the cruel effects of warfare and to pray for lasting peace and justice in the world. All will be welcome and entry is free."

See the Westminster Abbey website for more details.

*The Scottish National War Memorial, at Edinburgh Castle,  6.45-9pm: The public are invited to file past the shrine where a casket containing the original Roll of Honour for the fallen of the Great War will be guarded by sentinels with heads bowed. Admission is by free ticket.

Ticket holders for the last entry time are invited to a short service typical of those held on the battlefield, before the vigil closes to the public at 9.30pm. Representatives of regimental associations will keep watch through the night until 7.30am, the time British troops went 'over the top' on July 1st 1916.

Major General Mark Strudwick, Chairman of the Trustees of the Scottish National War Memorial, said: "The courage and sacrifice of the British soldiers who fought at The Battle of the Somme should never be forgotten. Few words conjure the tragic scale and staggering loss of life during the 141 days that battle raged.

"One hundred years on, we come together to honour them, to remember them and to ensure their memory and legacy lives on for generations to come."

More information from the Scottish National War Memorial. See also our Centenary News feature.

*Northern Ireland will participate with a public overnight vigil at the Somme Heritage Centre, Conlig, from 7pm tonight.  The museum is located on the edge of the Clandeboye Estate in County Down, where the 36th (Ulster) Division trained in the early part of the First World War. The Ulster Tower Memorial on the Somme is a replica of Helen's Tower at Clandeboye.

Details: WW1 Centenary Northern Ireland.

*Llandaff Cathedral Cardiff, at 8pm: Somme commemorative service to mark the start of an overnight military vigil, concluding with ceremony at  at the National War Memorial in Cathays Park between 7.00-7.30am

*Imperial War Museum,  London

IWM is hosting 'The Night Before the Somme'an evening of art, music and poetry from 8pm-midnight.

Director-General Diane Lees said "IWM was originally established while the First World War was still being fought to remember those who lived, fought, died and survived in the conflict. 

"A century later, we continue to do just that and encourage as many people as possible to join us."

Sources: UK Government (DCMS); Westminster Abbey, London; WW100 Scotland; Llandaff Cathedral; WW1 Centenary Northern Ireland; IWM London

Images: Centenary News

Posted by: CN Editorial Team