Scotland marks 100 years since start of Battle of the Somme

Major General Mark Strudwick with a locket containing pictures of his grandparents Francis & Irene Beresford. Picture: Scott Louden

Major General Mark Strudwick with a locket containing pictures of his grandparents Francis & Irene Beresford. Picture: Scott Louden

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The nation fell silent to honour thousands of soldiers killed in the Battle of the Somme 100 years after the bloodiest day in British military history.

Ceremonies across the United Kingdom honoured the hundreds of thousands of victims of the brutal offensive which started in northern France on 1 July 1916.

Alan Hamilton with the whistle his great uncle blew as he led his troops into battle. Picture: Scott Louden

Alan Hamilton with the whistle his great uncle blew as he led his troops into battle. Picture: Scott Louden

The two-minute silence ended at 7:30am yesterday, the time when the British, Commonwealth and French forces went “over the top” a century earlier.

The British Army suffered almost 60,000 casualties on the first day alone – with 20,00 killed – and more than a million men would be killed or wounded on both sides over the course of the 141-day offensive.

The silence came after a night-long vigil across Britain, launched on Thursday by the Queen at a Westminster Abbey ceremony, and at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which towers over the rolling Picardy fields where so many fell. Senior royals and politicians led tributes to the dead of the Battle of the Somme, as the nation fell silent on the 100th anniversary of the bloody opening day of the battle.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, French president Francois Hollande, the Dukes and Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge, and Prince Harry led 10,000 guests gathered at the Thiepval Memorial.

Vigil for the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme at Edinburgh Castle. Picture: Scott Louden

Vigil for the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme at Edinburgh Castle. Picture: Scott Louden

Mr Cameron laid a wreath at the cross, with a note reading: “Yours was the most horrific slaughter of a generation. We stand in awe of your sacrifice, determined that your legacy of liberty will live on forever.”

Mr Corbyn laid a wreath at the Stone of Remembrance inside the memorial, with a note reading: “In memory of all who died; we resolve peace is the future.”

Charles, Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande were among those who gave readings during the Thiepval ceremony, alongside serving forces personnel and ex-England, Arsenal and Tottenham footballer Sol Campbell. Game Of Thrones star Charles Dance, actress Joely Richardson and Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs narrated events.

• READ MORE: Vigils to pay tribute held 100 years after Battle of the Somme

The royals wore a poppy and cornflower brooch, with the latter, called the “bleuet”, having the same symbolism of remembrance in France as the poppy in Britain.

The brooches were made by French designer Catherine Desclaux and were worn by all the schoolchildren taking part in the ceremony.

British children laid wreaths at French graves and vice versa in the shared graveyard by the memorial.

Mr Hollande and Prince Charles later led the senior politicians and royals in laying wreaths at the Cross of Sacrifice by the memorial.

In London, people lined Parliament Square, where the roar of guns was followed by the two-minute reflection.

People huddled under trees and umbrellas, pausing on their journeys to stand quietly.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery were present, having been at Thiepval on Thursday night.

The soldiers manned three sets of guns, drawn into place by horses, and fired every four seconds for 100 seconds.

Whistles were blown and Big Ben chimed when the two minutes were over, though many still continued to pause in reflection.

In Edinburgh, a two-minute silence was held at Scotland’s National War Memorial, with descendants of some of those who died at the Somme in attendance.

Alan Hamilton blew the whistle that his great uncle Robert used when leading men into battle 100 years ago.

He said: “He was attached to a Scottish unit as an observation officer and he blew this whistle on 1 July at 7:30am 100 years ago to take his men over the top into action.

“He went forward with the regiment and, because of the high rate of casualties among the officers, he ended up commanding the regiment until he was wounded and evacuated.

“After the war, my father was given the whistle by uncle Robert, then carried it through the whole of the Second World War when he was in the RAF, and when I joined the army he passed it on to me.”

“I carried it for 41 years and my son, who is a corporal in the Army, will be getting the whistle once these commemorations are over.”

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