News story

Nationwide vigils to remember The Somme

Government announces events across the UK to commemorate the Somme Centenary

Somme UK
Credit: Imperial War Museum

The UK will hold overnight public vigils across the country to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale announced today.

The national vigil will be held at Westminster Abbey on 30 June and there will also be vigils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so as many people as possible can come together and remember those lost at the Somme.

A National Commemorative Service will also take place at Manchester Cathedral on 1 July 2016 and will be followed by a people’s procession through Manchester to Heaton Park. The event will close with live performances of music, spoken word and dance, featuring the Hallé Orchestra.

Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale said:

“We must never forget the scale of what happened at the Somme. More died on the first day of battle than any other day of the First World War. Almost every family in the country was touched by the devastating losses.

I hope people of all generations up and down the country will have the chance to attend an event and honour the bravery of those who sacrificed so much.”

The overnight vigils will take place on 30 June 2016 and will be held at:

  • A national vigil at Westminster Abbey around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior;
  • The Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle;
  • Clandeboye and Helen’s Tower, County Down, Northern Ireland - in association with the Somme Heritage Centre; and
  • The Welsh National War Memorial, Cardiff.

The Battle of the Somme saw over one million wounded, killed or missing on the battlefields and affected the lives of millions at home.

Other ways to get involved in commemorating the Somme centenary include:

  • An overnight programme of events at the Imperial War Museum London on 30 June; and
  • The Royal British Legion and Commonwealth War Graves Commission hosting a daily Remembrance ceremony at Thiepval at 11am GMT (12 CET) from 2 July - 18 November to mark the 141 days of battle. Communities throughout the UK are encouraged to host local events linking to the ceremonies in Thiepval.
  • There will be a number of events taking place across the battlefields at CWGC cemeteries and memorials, and the CWGC will be supporting organisations planning events.

Communities interested in projects exploring the impact of the Battle of the Somme in the trenches or on the Home Front can apply for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War: Then and Now £4 million fund.

Communities can also apply for funding to conserve and repair their war memorials as an act of remembrance.

National President of The Royal British Legion, Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson CB CVO, said:

“As the national custodian of Remembrance, The Royal British Legion is honoured to play a key role in the events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It is of huge importance that we continue to recognise the sacrifices made by the hundreds of thousands who fell during the 141 days of the Battle, and that we make our commemorations relevant and accessible to all generations. The Legion and Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be hosting daily Remembrance ceremonies at Thiepval and we will ensure the memory of those who lost their lives one hundred years ago lives on.”

The CWGC’s Director of External Relations, Mr Colin Kerr, said:

“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is delighted to be working with our partners in the UK government and the Royal British Legion to support a series of activities that will mark the entire 141 days of the Somme offensive, both in France and the UK.

With daily events at our Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, and by encouraging the public to visit our cemeteries throughout the Somme region, supported by rich online content and at our sites, we hope to deliver a fitting tribute to those who died, but also encourage ever greater numbers of the public to visit, to learn and to remember.”

Diane Lees, Director−General of IWM said:

“IWM is pleased to join the nation-wide commemorations for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and will open its doors to all who wish to mark this, overnight. 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.”

Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb said:

“Few battles represent the grim reality of conflict and the epic loss of life seen in the First World War like the Battle of the Somme. Almost 4,000 men from Welsh regiments were either killed or wounded in the fighting over just five days.

“It is entirely fitting that the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff will be one of the venues next June for a vigil to commemorate the centenary of the Somme. I am sure that people across Wales will pause to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives.”

Published 20 November 2015