The Secretary of State, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, will this morning travel to France to participate in ceremonies to mark the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Ms Villiers will attend the National Commemorative Event at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, alongside members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, the Irish President and the French Prime Minister.
Following the Thiepval event, the Secretary of State will travel to the Ulster Memorial Tower to take part in the commemorations to soldiers of the volunteer Divisions raised in Ireland who made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916.
The Secretary of State will be joined at this event by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The First Minister will represent the Northern Ireland Executive. The Irish Government will be represented by Heather Humphreys, Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts & the Gaeltacht.
Speaking ahead of the commemorations, Ms Villiers said:
I will have the privilege of joining the Prime Minister, members of the Royal family and thousands of members of the public at services in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. This will be my third visit to the Somme as Secretary of State, and these annual ceremonies are without doubt one of the most poignant and moving events that I attend as part of my official duties.
The Battle of the Somme has left an indelible mark on our nation’s history. It is deeply ingrained in the national consciousness of the whole United Kingdom, with barely a community, village, town or city untouched by the sheer horror what happened there. As we gather at the Ulster Memorial Tower, we will remember the many families who lost loved ones on the battlefields on this fateful day and the 141 days that followed.
This centenary gives us all an opportunity to reflect once again on the bravery of these soliders, and it is only right we come together as a nation today to remember all those who fell.
Of course the centenary has particular resonance for many in Northern Ireland because the deeds of the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the Somme have passed into legend. The heroism they displayed was remarkable. The 16th Irish Division too played their part in successfully capturing Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916.
Around 35,000 Irishmen - Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists - were killed in the First World War. Their contribution and their sacrifice was immense, and we should never forget it.’
Also on Friday the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ben Wallace, will attend the commemorative service taking place at Belfast City Hall. He will also represent the UK Government at a service of commemoration at St. Anne’s Cathedral on Sunday which has been organised by the Northern Ireland WW1 Centenary Committee.