Vigils to pay tribute held 100 years after Battle of the Somme

One vigil at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle. Picture: PA

One vigil at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle. Picture: PA

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A candlelight vigil has been held at Edinburgh Castle on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

At 7:28am on Friday a two-minute silence will mark the battle’s start on 1 July, 1916, one of the First World War’s bloodiest.

Events got under way last night at the Scottish National War Memorial, where members of the public paid their respects to the fallen ahead of a service shortly after 9pm.

Edinburgh Castle was flood-lit red from dusk onwards as part of commemorations taking place across the UK.

The Battle of the Somme was intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French against Germany’s forces in the First World War.

By the end of the conflict on 18 November, the British had suffered 420,000 casualties, with 19,240 troops dying on the first day alone. Fifty-one Scottish battalions took part in the campaign, including the 16th Battalion Royal Scots which was largely composed of professional and amateur sportsmen and their supporters.

At the end of the vigil the Memorial closed to the public while representatives of regimental associations and services kept watch overnight until 7:30am, when soldiers were led into battle a century ago.

A morning service will see those gathered respect a two-minute silence to remember those who fought.

At Westminster Abbey in London, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will join the congregation for a vigil, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will attend events at the Thiepval Memorial in France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.

After the Westminster Abbey service an overnight vigil will begin around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior – the first time the place of worship has hosted such an event since the peace vigils for the Cuban Missile Crisis more than 50 years ago.

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.”

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