Vigils are being held across the country to mark the centenary of one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles, says David Evennett.
Tomorrow marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, its impact sent shockwaves through the nation, devastating communities across the country. On the first day alone, the British forces suffered more than 57,000 casualties. By the end of the 141-day-long battle, Britain and its allies had suffered more than 400,000 casualties.
The Somme was the first time many of the soldiers who had joined local Pals Battalions with their friends and colleagues saw action. Local businessman and politician Sir George McCrae helped to form the Edinburgh City Pals by persuading players from the Heart of Midlothian Football club to join the 16th Battalion, the Royal Scots.
The players’ high profile helped swell the battalion’s ranks, many of whom took part in the Battle of the Somme. Three of those players were killed on the first day of the battle alone.
Although no-one who fought at the Somme is alive today to tell their story, the impact of the battle should never be forgotten.
It’s important that we remember not only the scale and devastation of the battle but also the young men who left their homes and loved ones to serve. My own grandfather, Clyde Turner served during the First World War and I, like thousands of others, will be reflecting on my family’s personal connections.
Tonight overnight public vigils will take place across the country, with the national vigil held at Westminster Abbey.
Tomorrow we will pay tribute to all those who served with a two-minute silence at 7.28am leading up to the moment, at 7.30am, when the men went over the top at the Somme.
The national UK commemoration will be held in Manchester tomorrow and will follow a service of remembrance in France held at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
You can be part of this national moment of remembrance in many ways. The Royal British Legion has produced a helpful guide, Remember the Battle of the Somme 1916-2016, with everything you need to pay tribute to those who served.
Closer to home there are a range of local commemorations taking place in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. You can look for an event near you on the official Remembering Somme map and if you are planning an event, or know of one taking place, you can add it to the map. It’s simple to do, and will enable local communities to come together to remember this important moment in our history and commemorate the huge sacrifice a generation made 100 years ago.
• David Evennett MP is First World War Minister