Ceremony to mark Somme centenary
Britons are to get a chance to attend one of the largest memorials to Britain's war dead in a special ceremony to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
An online public ballot has been announced for 8,000 free pairs of tickets to the Thiepval Memorial in France on July 1 2016. Residents of the UK, France and Ireland can go online, at www.Somme2016.org, for more details about the ballot which opens on September 28 2015.
The Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, leading to more than one million casualties.
It is an annual event but the ceremony at the Sir Edwin Lutyens-designed memorial, which includes 600 British and French graves along with the names of 72,000 soldiers carved in to the stone, is set to have special poignancy given the landmark date, according to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
He said: "The tragic events at the Battle of the Somme left a deep mark on a huge scale - nearly everyone in the UK will have an ancestor who fought or died at the Somme. It's important that people across the UK have the chance to remember and honour these brave soldiers.
"The centenary event will be an opportunity to not only pay tribute to those that sacrificed so much but to ensure that their legacy continues for generations. I am grateful to our French partners for working with us to commemorate the extensive loss on all sides on what will be an incredibly important and deeply moving event."
Representatives from the nations who fought in the battle, along with The Royal British Legion and members of the public, will be among those attending.
Events will also take place in France to mark the 141 days of the battle.
Colin Kerr, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which helps to maintain the site, said the setting is important because it is a "silent witness to the sacrifice of those who died on the Somme in the First World War" and is a place where generations and communities are able to "pay respect, to visit, to be moved and to learn".
He said: "There is no more fitting place to mark the anniversary of the battle, the human cost of which was felt in communities all over the world."