This evening, The Queen led the beginning of commemorations to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, begun on 1st July 1916, at Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile, William, Kate and Harry were at Thiepval memorial in France for a twilight vigil service.
Arriving in deep grey, The Queen and Prince Philip were greeted at the doors of the Abbey by
The service was led by Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, who said: “This evening, we seek to recall the experience of those waiting to go into battle. This whole night will be a time of vigil; a watch will be maintained at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, changing every quarter of an hour, and representing all the forces involved in the Battle. The watch will conclude at 7.30 am when, a hundred years ago, whistles were blown to signal the moment of advance.
“Tonight we shall remember the courage and the sacrifice of those preparing to face their enemy, and we shall pray that we may continue to learn the lessons of history to build a world at peace.”
Readings were given by David Cameron, actor Luke Thompson and members of the Armed Forces, and a specially commissioned hymn, ‘Watch With Me’ by Judith Bingham, was sung, created for this service.
Touchingly, the Last Post was played by a Welsh Guard; the bugle was used at the Battle of the Somme.
Her Majesty handed over a wreath to be laid, before the vigil began. She then left the Abbey with The Duke of Edinburgh. The doors remain open through the night, with the Watch at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior changing every 15 minutes.
In France, on the battlefields where the Somme was fought near Amiens, stands the towering 145m tall Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry attended a twilight vigil service at the memorial which took place around 9pm BST, shortly after the service at the Abbey. They were allowed to climb the memorial to see the fields surrounding it where over 1 million men lost their lives at the Somme, the bloodiest day in British Military history.
Thiepval is a war memorial to 72,246 missing British and South African servicemen, who fell on the Somme with no known grave.
Here, the Royals were given a historical briefing on the events which unfolded a century ago tomorrow morning. At 7:28am a two-minute silence will mark the battle’s start, with The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery firing First World War guns in Parliament Square, along with a trench whistle, to mark the end of the silence and beginning of the battle in 1916.
Both Prince William and Prince Harry gave readings at the service, with the Duke talking of European governments “including our own” who failed to “prevent the catastrophe of world war”.
Reading an address written by author Sebastian Faulks, William continued: “We lost the flower of a generation; and in the years to come it sometimes seemed that with them a sense of vital optimism had disappeared forever from British life,” William said. “It was in many ways the saddest day in the long story of our nation.”
“Tonight, we stand here with a promise to those men: We will remember you. The gift you have given your country is treasured by every one of us this day.
“The sacrifice you made will never, ever be forgotten.”
Harry read the poem ‘Before Action’, written by Lieutenant WN Hodgson of the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, who wrote it days before he was killed in action on the first day of the Somme.
The hundreds of graves which sit before the Thiepval Memorial all had lights set before them,
Tomorrow, Prince Charles and Camilla will join William, Catherine and Harry on the continent for more remembrance services. The fivesome will be joined by PM Cameron and President Francois Hollande.
The Duchess of Cornwall’s great-uncle, Captain Harry Cubitt, was killed at the Somme in September 1916, serving with the Coldstream Guards. He was the eldest, and the first, of three brothers to die serving on the Western Front. She will lay a wreath at his grave.