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War's legacy should be precursor of peace here, Bishop of London says

By Staff Reporter

Published 01/07/2016

A member of the military lays a wreath made of roses and bay leaves on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II (2nd from left) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (left) at a service on the Eve of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme at Westminster Abbey
A member of the military lays a wreath made of roses and bay leaves on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II (2nd from left) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (left) at a service on the Eve of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme at Westminster Abbey
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh pay their respects

The Battle of the Somme's legacy should see people working towards reconciliation to ensure today's children never endure what the First World War soldiers faced, the Bishop of London has said.

On the eve of the battle's 100th anniversary the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres also quoted Irish poet Thomas Kettle in front of a Westminster Abbey congregation which included the Queen, saying that the Somme must be the precursor of peace between Protestant Ulster and Ireland, and Ireland and Great Britain.

Dr Chartres told the audience - which also included the Duke of Edinburgh and David Cameron - that they should strive to reach an accord and reject "those who would stir up hatred and division".

The evening service in tribute to the fallen heralded the start of events in the UK and France commemorating the battle which began on July 1 1916 - a day that became the bloodiest in British military history with almost 20,000 dead.

It was intended to be a decisive victory for the British and French against Germany's forces but by the end of the four-month campaign in Northern France, more than a million soldiers had been killed and wounded on both sides and the First World War would drag on for another two years.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry paid their respects in France, attending a vigil at Thiepval Memorial where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.

In his address Dr Chartres quoted the famous words of Irishman Thomas Kettle, a nationalist, economist and poet who was an officer with the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was killed at the Somme.

The Bishop said: "'Used with the wisdom that is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed; the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.'

"Our prayer must be that with the wisdom sown in blood and tears we may be agents of the reconciliation which is God's will, reconciliation wherever we live or from wherever we come, rejecting those who would stir up hatred and division and instead working for the reconciliation that will ensure that our children will never have to endure what the men of the Somme so bravely endured."

The first day of the Battle of the Somme became the bloodiest in British military history with more than 57,000 casualties recorded - of these 19,240 were fatalities.

Among the worst hit were the "pals" battalions, volunteer units of limited fighting experience.

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