Abbey to Open All Night for Somme Centenary
The Abbey will open its doors to the public on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, Thursday 30th June, for an all-night vigil around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior - the first time the Abbey has been open all night for a vigil since peace vigils for the Cuban Missile Crisis over fifty years ago. The vigil will be mounted from 8.45 pm on Thursday 30th June to 7.30 am (last entry to the Abbey at 7:15am) on Friday 1st July.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "The Battle of the Somme is remembered as one of the most devastating of the First World War. The sacrifice of many thousands of lives in a battle which ultimately failed to achieve any serious breakthrough stands as a reminder of the suffering and loss involved in the First World War. As we imagine the feelings of those preparing for battle, the vigil will allow us to reflect on the cruel effects of warfare and to pray for lasting peace and justice in the world. All will be welcome and entry is free."
The public are invited to attend the vigil after an evening service has taken place on Thursday 30th at 8.00 pm, which will be attended by HM The Queen and broadcast live on BBC TWO.
During the vigil, a fifteen-minute watch will be kept around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior by service personnel and community groups representing those involved in the Somme and there will be readings from contemporary accounts of the battle.
The vigil will end at 7.30 am when The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery will fire First World War guns in Parliament Square. A short reading will take place at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, followed by a two minute silence, and a trench whistle will be blown echoing the command to go over the top, marking the exact moment when the Battle of the Somme began. Television coverage in the morning will be live on BBC ONE from 7.00 am.
At 8.00 am, the Dean of Westminster will preside at a Eucharist at the Abbey's lantern altar to mark the centenary.
The Abbey vigil is part of a wider programme of events to mark the Somme centenary, which includes vigils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and at Thiepval, Northern France.
No tickets are required for the vigil.
Entry (free) will be at the Abbey's Visitor Entrance at the North Door.