100 Years On – Marking the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme

The Somme, August 1916
The Somme, August 1916

Today marks 100 years since the Battle of the Somme began during World War One. It was the largest battles of the First World War on the Western Front and saw more than one million men wounded or killed.

The Somme has gone down as one of the bloodiest battles in human history, and in honor of the centenary there are a series of memorial events taking place all over the world to commemorate the soldiers who fought during it. The Commonwealth Graves Commission (CWGC) will host many of these events and have been undertaking massive refurbishments on memorials in preparation of the centenary.

141 Days

The Battle of the Somme lasted a total of 141 days, from July 1st – November 18th, 1916, to commemorate this a service will be held at key Somme offensive points around the 25km battlefield site every single day for the 141 days in 2016.

During July a series of memorial events will occur across the Somme including ceremonies at the Memorial Cairn in Contalmaison, France, a Canadian National Ceremony of Remembrance at Beaumont-Hamel (Newfoundland) Memorial Park, and several events at Longueval, France.

ABF The Soldiers’ Charity have organised a sponsored cycling tour of the Somme and Ypres spanning from July 31st – August 8th. Cyclists will journey across 352 miles, stopping at various CWGC sites along the way, to commemorate the Battle of the Somme and raise funds to support soldiers today.

Another cycling event, a bike ride from the Imperial War Museum in London to the Thiepval Memorial will be visiting numerous CWGC sites en route will take place between 31st August and 3rd September 2016. This is to honor the Army Cyclists who perished, and will raise funds in support of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

lochnagar crater 1916

Lochnagar Crater

A service will be held at Lochnagar Crater, opening at 7.28am, the time the mine originally detonated, on July 1st. This will kick off the ceremony which will last until approximately 8.45am. The service has been organised by owner of the site Richard Dunning and the Friend’s of Lochnagar, 5,000 people are expected to attend.

Lochnagar Crater was created by one of many mines set off during World War One and is the largest crater caused by human action. 

Ulster tower.
Ulster tower.

Ulster Monument

The ceremony will be held at 2.30pm on July 1st, at the foot of the Ulster Tower, which was erected in 1921 to pay homage to soldiers from the 36th Ulster Division and Ulster Volunteer Force. These units took over a section of the front line of the Somme by the River Ancre between villages Hamel, and Thiepval by mid-March 1916. On July 1st 1916 the men of the 36th Division made progress as far as the German third line positions but soon fell victim to fire and shelling. They lost a total of 5,500 men.

The Ulster Tower was built in 1921, a replica of Helen’s Tower of the Clandeboye estate, which was used as the training ground for the division in Ireland, and has held a ceremony annually to honor the men who lost their lives there.

The caribou in Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont-Hamel.
The caribou in Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont-Hamel.

Newfoundland Beaumont-Hamel Memorial

The Government of Canada will hold a ceremony beginning at 4pm to mark the 100th Anniversary of the battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, which covers 74 acres of land. Large screens will be erected for visitors standing furthest away from the monumental caribou in the centre of the park.

Newfoundland was part of the British Empire during the First World War and so the 29th Division of the Newfoundland Regiment experienced its first major action on the first day of the Somme. It was the worst day in British military history, and the soldiers of the Canadian regiment had terrible losses within just a few minutes of leaving their trench positions. Only 68 men survived. They had one of the highest casualty rates of 1st July.  

The towering Thiepval Memorial.
The towering Thiepval Memorial.

Thiepval Memorial

An international service of remembrance is to be held on July 1st 2016 hosted by the French and UK Governments.

Approximately 10,000 people are expected to attend the special ceremony on July 1st, including dignitaries and members of the British Royal Family. It will also be broadcast on large screens in nearby cities Amiens, Albert, and Arras.

In 2015 a ballot was held to offer UK citizens the chance to attend the centenary event at Thiepval Memorial for the Somme and 8,000 people received tickets in preparation for the events.

The CWGC underwent major restoration works to ensure the Thiepval Memorial, which has more than 72,000 names of fallen soldiers with no known grave written on its arches, is ready for the centenary. The CWGC called the project one of the most important in almost a century of caring for First World War monuments, explaining that the weather has taken it’s toll on the most visited monument to Allied soldiers.

Memorial services by the Royal British Legion will also be held at Thiepval Memorial every day for the 141 days duration of the Battle of Somme, until November 17th, 2016.

There are also events held at the Somme Museum and Heritage Centre in Northern Ireland.

In order to find out more information about the events spanning the 141 days of commemoration in 2016, or for more information about the day-to-day figures of the Battle of the Somme, you can visit the CWGC’s website, or have a look at Somme 2016’s calendar of commemorative events.

The Somme Departmental Council is encouraging people from all over the world to send in poems for peace to commemorate the soldiers killed during the battlefield. People are invited to share a poem, haiku or aphorism on their websites or under the Twitter hashtag #poemsforpeace from 1st July – 18th November 2016.