Press release

Culture to tell the story of the Somme at Thiepval Centenary Commemorations

A programme of film, music and poetry will be used to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July


Performers from across the UK including 600 schoolchildren will take part in the event at Thiepval to help tell the story of the 141-day battle as the nation comes together to remember those who lost their lives.

Renowned actors Charles Dance and Joely Richardson will narrate the event and former England international footballer Sol Campbell and award-winning actor Jason Isaacs will do a reading. Scottish singer Julie Fowlis will sing An Eala Bhàn (“The White Swan”) in Gaelic.

The Morriston Orpheus Choir, The Band of the Royal Irish Regiment, British tenor Samuel Boden, and the Band of the Welsh Guards will perform songs connected to the battle, including those written by soldiers in the trenches.

The the music performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sakari Oramo will include George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow, composed while he served with the Durham Light Infantry. Awarded the Military Cross for his leadership in July 1916, he did not live to receive the award and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

To reflect the Anglo-French nature of the event, the Chœur de l’Armée française will also participate on 1 July.

Highlights of the cultural programme also include;

  • Poems and historical recollections read by UK and international military and Somme descendants;
  • Exhibition boards by the National Army Museum
  • Examples of First World War military hardware from leading national museums will also be at Thiepval, including a replica First World War tank from The Tank Museum, Bovington;
  • An original London Battle Bus from the First World War provided by the London Transport Museum;
  • A fly past of replica British and German First World War aircraft provided by the Yorkshire Air Museum and the First World War Aviation Heritage Trust; and
  • A screening of the edited version of the Imperial War Museum’s film The Battle of the Somme (1916) accompanied by music composed by Laura Rossi and performed live by The BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Six hundred British, Irish and French school children, from a programme organised by the British Council and The Académie d’Amiens, will also take part in the event. Schools from across the UK and Ireland have been matched with schools across the Somme region to help students learn more about the Battle of the Somme.

The UK will also host a range of events including vigils at the Monument, Westminster Abbey, in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Northern Ireland on June 30, and a service in Manchester Cathedral on July 1.

Notes to Editors

The Thiepval Memorial was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world and bears the names of more than 72,000 men who died in the Somme sector and who have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was unveiled on 1 August 1932 by Edward, Prince of Wales. Thiepval is both a memorial to the missing and a monument commemorating the alliance between the British Empire and France. Beside the memorial is a cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves, brought together from all over the battlefield.

The Thiepval Somme centenary commemorative event is hosted by the French and UK Governments (DCMS lead UK department), working in partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC); the British Embassy in Paris; the FCO; the MoD; and The Royal British Legion (RBL). Further details can be found here

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. For more information visit the British Council website

The Imperial War Museum film features original footage from the battle and was originally released in 1916 and seen by around 22 million people in Britain during the First World War.

There will be an act of commemoration held daily for the duration of the battle, hosted by The Royal British Legion. Guests are required to register their attendance for the events between 2 July and 18 November at the RBL website More details of visiting the region over the next year can be found on the Somme Department website here

More information on the Thiepval Memorial can be found here

More information on educational resources for schools connected to the Battle of the Somme can be found here

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Published 27 June 2016