Communities urged to mark centenary of the Battle of the Somme
Communities across the country are being encouraged to hold vigils to mark the centenary of the First World War's Battle of the Somme.
As the 100th anniversary of the Somme approaches, the Government and the Royal British Legion are inviting villages, towns and cities to organise their own remembrance events alongside national and international commemorations .
It is hoped people will hold vigils at sundown on June 30 or on July 1, gathering at meaningful places or in their own homes, lighting candles, reading poems or listening to music and sharing photographs of relatives who fought in the battle.
Beginning on July 1 1916 and intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French, the Somme became a bloody stalemate on battlegrounds that turned into a muddy quagmire after torrential rains in October of that year.
It was a battle that claimed almost 20,000 British lives on the first day alone. There were more than a million casualties on both sides by the time it ended after 141 days on November 18 1916.
The Battle of the Somme has "come to symbolise the tragic scale and futility of modern industrialised warfare", the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, head of remembrance at the Royal British Legion said.
Losses were felt by almost every community in the UK and Commonwealth, he said, adding: "Their collective sacrifice is as relevant today as ever but in this centenary year we pay special tribute to their service."
The vigils are intended mirror the apprehension of those in the conflict 100 years ago as they waited in the trenches for "zero hour" at 7.30am when they went "over the top".
To help communities host remembrance events, the Royal British Legion has launched a toolkit, with ideas for organising local vigils, a concise history of the Somme, a souvenir "1916" newspaper and boxes of poppy petals for scattering at events.
The Government has also created an online guide, with information on local vigils and events and ideas for commemorations to mark the Somme.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said: "The Battle of the Somme left a deep mark on millions of families 100 years ago.
"I encourage communities across the country to come together to pay tribute to those who lost so much at the Somme and at home
"It is important that we never forget what happened on the battlefields and honour their memory and bravery for generations to come."
There are a series of formal events around the centenary of the start of the battle, including a national commemoration in Manchester and vigils at Westminster Abbey in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and County Down, Northern Ireland.
There will also be an international commemorative event on July 1 at Thiepval, in northern France, where the memorial stands to more than 72,000 men who died in the Somme and have no known grave.
:: For more information about hosting remembrance events, people can visit www.britishlegion.org.uk/somme100 or http://www.rememberingsomme.culture.gov.uk/