NATIONAL COMMEMORATIONS TO BE HELD 30 JUNE AND 1 JULY
Organisers and descendants came together today ahead of an overnight vigil that will take place at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle on Thursday 30 June and Friday 1 July. It will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
The vigil is in partnership with WW100 Scotland, Royal British Legion Scotland (Legion Scotland), the Scottish National War Memorial, the Ministry of Defence, Historic Environment Scotland and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is one of four national commemorative events taking place across the four nations of the UK.
Major General Mark Strudwick CBE, Chairman of the Battle of the Somme Vigil whose grandfather was wounded at the Battle; Able Cadet Samantha Kaszuba from TS Valiant (Dunbar Sea Cadet Unit), one of the candle bearers at the vigil and Major William Wright representing the Royal Regiment of Scotland were joined by descendant Alan Hamilton at the Memorial today ahead of this week’s event. One hundred years to the minute, Alan will blow the whistle that his great uncle blew at 7.30am on July 1 1916 as he led his troops into Battle.
The Battle of the Somme was the largest Western Front battle of World War One, beginning on July 1 1916 and ending 141 days later on 18th November. Over a million men were wounded or killed, 420,000 of them from the British Army. British casualties on the first day were the worst in the history of the British army, with 57,470 casualties of whom 19,240 died.
Fifty one Scottish battalions took part in the campaign, including the renowned 16th Battalion Royal Scots ‘McCrae’s Battalion’, which was largely composed of professional and amateur sportsmen and their supporters. The Battalion lost 12 officers and 573 soldiers in the attack on the first day.
Between 6.45pm and 9.00pm on 30 June, members of the public will file silently through the Memorial, passing the Shrine where the Casket containing the original Roll of Honour for the fallen of WW1 will be guarded by sentinels with heads bowed.
Veterans, military personnel, descendants and VIP guests including Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, and Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson will then join members of the public at 9.00pm paying their respects at a short service typical of those held in the battlefield, conducted by Reverend Neil Gardner of Canongate Kirk.
Following the service, the Reverend will lead the candle party into the Memorial, where they will officially open the overnight vigil at 9.30pm by placing their candles on the Casket plinth within the Shrine.
Throughout the night, the vigil will be attended by representatives of Regimental Associations and Services, who will keep watch over the Casket until 7.30 am on 1st July, at which time the Battle began. Edinburgh Castle will be floodlit red from dusk onwards as part of the Commemorations.
A second short service will begin at 7.10am. Following a piper’s lament, a two-minute silence will commence at 7.28am with the firing of the ‘One O’Clock Gun’. The silence, which will be synchronised across all four nations across the UK, will end with Somme descendant Alan Hamilton blowing the whistle that his great uncle blew 100 years ago at 7.30am as he led his troops into Battle. A Benediction will follow after which the Royal Scots Association vigil party will leave the Memorial as a piper plays to mark the end of the service.
Major General Mark Strudwick, Chairman of the Trustees of the Scottish National War Memorial, said:
“The courage and sacrifice of the British soldiers who fought at The Battle of the Somme should never be forgotten. Few words conjure the tragic scale and staggering loss of life during the 141 days that battle raged.
“One hundred years on, we come together to honour them, to remember them and to ensure their memory and legacy lives on for generations to come.”
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said:
“The Battle of the Somme was a significant battle in terms of casualties. On the first day alone there were nearly 57,470 British casualties, 19,240 of whom died. 51 Scottish battalions took part, and the National and local Vigils being held across the UK are a fitting way to remember those that fought at the battle. The vigils also provide an important chance to reflect on what can and should be learned from the horrors of war.”
Kevin Gray, MM, Chief Executive Officer, Legion Scotland said:
“We must never forget the sacrifice made by those who fell at The Battle of the Somme. Remembering those brave soldiers is extremely important and I would urge the public to join with almost one hundred veterans and nine military associations representing the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force to pay their respects at the vigil on the 30th of June.”
Alan Hamilton, one of the sentinels at the vigil whose great uncle fought at the Somme, said:
“I am honoured and humbled to be a participant in the vigil to commemorate that 100 years ago, fathers, brothers and sons of thousands of families lost their lives or were wounded in mind and body in one of the greatest battles in our history. My great uncle Robert, then a young officer, blew this whistle and led his men into a fierce battle where many of them, his friends, were killed and wounded. He was with them until he, himself, was wounded. Throughout the vigil I will stand with others in silent reflection in an unspoken comradeship with those who went before us.”
Members of the public can apply for one of four separate time slots beginning between 6.45pm and 8.15pm. Tickets are available online or by calling the ticket hotline on 0300 244 4000, Monday-Friday, 9:00am – 5:30pm.