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Abbey Holds Vigil and Requiem to Mark Somme Centenary

Friday, 1st July 2016

Abbey Holds Vigil and Requiem to Mark Somme Centenary

A Vigil and Requiem to Commemorate the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme* was held at Westminster Abbey on Friday 1st July 2016.

The Abbey had been open through the night for a Vigil to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a Watch at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior changed every 15 minutes. The final Watch took up its position at 7.15 am.

At 7.25 am the Left Half Battery of The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, fired a bombardment in Parliament Square for one hundred seconds.

At 7.27 am Luke Thompson, actor, read An Account of the Battle by Corporal George Ashurst (1895-1988) 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers.

At 7.30 am Second Lieutenant Matthew Narey, 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, blew a trench whistle issued in 1915 to commemorate the centenary of the moment at which the Battle of the Somme was joined.

The final Watch departed from the Grave of the Unknown Warrior through the Great West Door in silence.

A piper, Lance Corporal Ritchie Spence, Irish Guards, played Flowers of the Forest.

Afterwards a Requiem was celebrated by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, at the Abbey's Lantern Altar.

The Reverend Mark Birch, Minor Canon and Chaplain, read the Epistle, Romans 8: 28-39. The Reverend Jane Sinclair, Canon in Residence, read the Gospel, St John 6: 35-40.

The Reverend Paul Arbuthnot, Minor Canon and Sacrist, led the Intercessions.

Order of Service


Historical note

On 1st July 1916, the British and French armies launched an offensive near the River Somme, in Picardy, France. This series of battles, lasting nearly five months, would become one of the bloodiest and most important campaigns of the First World War. In the early hours soldiers moved into forward trenches and advanced into no-man's land, preparing for 'zero-hour' at 7.30 am. As the bombardment lifted, the first wave of Allied troops attacked along a 40 kilometre front. In the south, the French made good progress and British units took Mametz and Montauban, but in the north — at Gommecourt, Serre, Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, and La Boisselle — the British Army suffered terrible losses for little gain. On that first day 19,240 British soldiers were killed, the French had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army lost between 10,000–12,000 men.

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