Poignant vigil marks Somme 100 years on

Major William Wright, chairman of the Battle of the Somme Vigil Major General Mark Strudwick CBE, Able Cadet Samantha Kaszuba from the Dunbar Sea Cadet Unit and descendent Alan Hamilton at the National War Memorial. Picture: Greg Macvean
Major William Wright, chairman of the Battle of the Somme Vigil Major General Mark Strudwick CBE, Able Cadet Samantha Kaszuba from the Dunbar Sea Cadet Unit and descendent Alan Hamilton at the National War Memorial. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Able Cadet Samantha Kaszuba will take her place tomorrow night with pride.

A member of TS Valiant (Dunbar Sea Cadet Unit), she will be one of the candle bearers at a poignant vigil which will take place at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle overnight into Friday.

It will be an event which will bring together young and old in silent reflection to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us all 100 years ago.

The silence will be broken at 7.30am - the time on July 1, 1916 that the Battle of the Somme began.

The Somme was the largest Western Front battle of World War One, lasting 141 days on November 18. 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, officially recorded as 57,470 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 Hearts players along with those from several other Scottish teams. The Battalion lost 12 officers and 573 soldiers in the attack on the first day.

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.”

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.”

Between 6.45pm and 9pm tomorrow, 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 will then join members of the public at 9pm paying their respects at a short service, 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.

Following a piper’s lament, a two-minute silence will commence at 7.28am with the firing of the One O’Clock Gun.