Battle of the Somme centenary marked in Ireland, Britain and France

President Higgins among dignitaries in France who commemorated the event

President Michael D Higgins joins dignitaries from France and Britain at a commemoration event to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Video: Reuters

 

Soldiers, politicians, royalty and ordinary citizens stood in silence, heads bowed, on Friday in ceremonies across Ireland, Britain and France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history.

The devastating first World War clash began on July 1st, 1916, along a 24 km (15-mile) front near the River Somme in northern France, where British and French forces hoped to win a decisive victory against Germany.

Around 20,000 British soldiers died on the first day alone to capture just a few square miles of territory.

By the end of the battle in November more than one million men had perished and the allies had advanced just 11 km (seven miles ).

France

At the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in France, President Michael D Higgins joined members of the British royal family, prime minister David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande for a special service of remembrance.

Mr Hollande and the UK’s Prince Charles led the senior politicians and royals in laying wreaths at the Cross of Sacrifice, looking out onto the former battlefield.

Writing in the programme for the commemoration, Prince Charles wrote that “their sacrifice and suffering will never be forgotten”.

He added: “It is truly terrifying to imagine the destruction wrought across this landscape 100 years ago today. However, we now return to the battlefield in a spirit of reconciliation and respect.

“We honour the men who served from across Britain and Ireland, the Commonwealth and from France.

“We remember, too, the men from Germany who fought and fell in this most futile of conflicts.”

Dublin

In Dublin, a ceremony to commemorate the centenary took place in the National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge on Friday morning and was attended by members of the Defence Forces and the Royal British Legion.

The 36th Ulster Division Flag and the 16th Irish Division Flag were piped in at 7.30am, signifying the start time of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.

Britain

In Britain, the anniversary was marked with a gun salute in London as well as services elsewhere, including Cardiff and Edinburgh. A two-minute silence was also held across the country.

Silent actors dressed as British soldiers from the first World War appeared in public squares, standing expressionless and representing soldiers killed in the Battle of the Somme.

At London’s Waterloo train station, the actors handed out cards bearing the name, age, rank and military unit of the slain soldier they represented.

PA and Reuters