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Somme Centenary: Thousands gather at Ulster Tower in solemn salute to the fallen

First Minister Arlene Foster and royals among dignitaries paying respects at centenary memorial for one of most defining days in British history

By Ivan Little

Published 01/07/2016

Pictured wreaths laid after the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France
Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured wreaths laid after the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
HRH Charles, The Prince of Wales, during a walkabout after the service at Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall during a walkabout after the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Joe Hubble from the Black Watch attending today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Two french police on horseback the Mill Road Cemetery at theUlster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
A wreath aid by HRH, Charles, The Prince of Wales during the servicE at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Richard, The Duke of Gloucester laying a wreath at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Crowds at today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured an Orangeman at today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Crowd at today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Irish minster Heather Humphries and Northern Ireland's First Minster Arlene Foster at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen with his 7 yr old son Carter at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Ulster Tower's Teddy Colligan helps French Army Snipers get onto the roof of the Ulster Tower Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured crowd during the service Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured First Minster Arlene Foster and The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland laying wreaths Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured PUP leader Billy Hutchinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt laying wreaths Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured HRH, Charles, The Prince of Wales, bowing his head after laying a wreath Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured crowd during the service Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured MP Ian Paisley Jnr being shown to his seat Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
McBurney/Centenary Service at the Ulster Memorial Tower Pictured MP Kate Hoey Date: Friday 1st July 2016 Location: Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 +44 2890 660676 liammcburney@gmail.com
Pictured crowd at today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured HRH, Charles, The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Richard, The Duke of Gloucester at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
First Minster Arlene Foster at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
People taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
People taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured people taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured people taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured people taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured people taking cover as heavy rains fall before the service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
HRH, Charles, The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured HRH, Charles, The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, and the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Richard, The Duke of Gloucester at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured crowd at today's service at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, France Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
The Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry stand amongst VIPS at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Phil Noble/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cornwall greets members of the public at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, following a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales greets members of the public at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, following a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (right) at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (left) and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson lay wreaths at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme.Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales lays a wreath at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales prepares to lay a wreath at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Guests at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers join guests watching a piper play at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince Wales at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, for a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke of Gloucester arrive at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, for a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (right) at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme.Niall Carson/PA Wire
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (left) and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson lay wreaths at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France, during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery fire a gun during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Phil Noble/PA Wire
A choir sing during the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Young people holding flowers bouquets and cockades stand guard in front of the graves as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of World War I (WWI) at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Young people carry wreaths at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Young people holding flowers bouquets and cockades stand guard in front of the graves as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of World War I (WWI) at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Brig JSS O'Sullivan Col of the Royal Irish Regiment lays a wreath at the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
French soldiers (L) and British horse guards (R) stand guard as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of WWI at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Young people holding flowers bouquets and cockades walk among the graves as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of World War I (WWI) at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Young people holding flowers bouquets and cockades walk amomg the graves as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of World War I (WWI) at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: Irish President Michael D. Higgins, his wife Sabina Coyle and Prince Harry follow Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prime Minister David Cameron, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and French President Francois Hollande as they arrive to attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France.(Photo by Gareth Fuller- Pool/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande (left) Prime Minister David Cameron (second left) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (centre) and Prince Harry, greet Irish president Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne during the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery pass the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and VIPs at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery pass the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and VIPs at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
French soldiers attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 1, 2016. See PA story HERITAGE Somme. Photo credit should read: Phil Noble/PA Wire
French soldiers attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Phil Noble/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry amongst VIPs at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Soldiers arrive to leave sprays of flowers as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of World War I (WWI) at the River Somme. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment take part in the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Phil Noble/PA Wire
British horse guards stand guard as they take part in the memorial ceremony on July 1, 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial, in Thiepval, during which Britain and France will mark the 100 years since soldiers emerged from their trenches to begin one of the bloodiest battles of WWI at the River Somme. AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTINSTEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the Irish Guards at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Yui Mok/PA Wire
French soldiers at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
People enterthe Thiepval Museum ahead of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.Yui Mok/PA Wire
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment take part in the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Members of the Irish Guards at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
People view memorial poppies placed in the ground ahead of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Scottish soldiers stand near the Lochnagar Crater, a mine crater created after an English mine exploded, marking the launch of the British offensive against the German lines, at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on July 1, 2016 during a ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months). / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
People view memorial poppies placed in the ground ahead of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 01, 2016. See PA story HERITAGE Somme. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
French soldiers at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
French Junior Minister for Veterans and Remembrance Jean-Marc Todeschini speaks on July 1, 2016 in Contalmaison, during a ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months). / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Piper David Hogg plays in First World War uniform as part of the Royal Irish Regiment Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Scottish soldiers stand near the Lochnagar Crater, a mine crater created after an English mine exploded, marking the launch of the British offensive against the German lines, at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on July 1, 2016 during a ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months). / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Royal Irish Regiment carry out their Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Scottish soldiers stand near the Lochnagar Crater, a mine crater created after an English mine exploded, marking the launch of the British offensive against the German lines, at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on July 1, 2016 during a ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months). / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
People attend a ceremony at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on July 1, 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months), next to the Lochnagar Crater, a mine crater created after a British mine exploded, marking the launch of the British offensive against the German lines. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Royal Irish Regiment carry out their Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
A Scottish soldier stands near the Lochnagar Crater, a mine crater created after an English mine exploded, marking the launch of the British offensive against the German lines, at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on July 1, 2016 during a ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest of the World War I (1.2 million killed, missing and wounded in five months). / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENIFRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment take part in the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) is greeted as he attends the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Photo bt Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment take part in the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: A floral tribute left on a wall ahead of the Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Photo bt Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: A message on a memorial poppy placed in the ground ahead of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Photo bt Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrives for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Photo bt Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Chris Radburn - Pool/Getty Images)
THIEPVAL, FRANCE - JULY 1: People carry poppy wreaths ahead of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval memorial to the Missing on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. The event is part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated. (Photo bt Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment take part in the Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Piper David Hogg plays in First World War uniform as part of the Royal Irish Regiment Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soildiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Royal Irish Regiment carry out thier Act of Remembrance this morning at Connaught Cemetery, France, beside the Ulster Tower, to mark the time the first soldiers went 'over the top' at the battle of the Somme 150 years ago. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons

Today the battlefields of the Somme will host a poignant remembrance service for the thousands of Ulster soldiers who died on the first day of one of the bloodiest battles in history.

Members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be present at the Ulster Tower where almost 3,000 people from Northern Ireland will be in attendance for the Somme centenary commemorations


All around the Somme yesterday there was a procession of coaches to the dozens of cemeteries and monuments in the Thiepval area.

But parts of what had been no man's land a hundred years ago were a no-go area yesterday as a massive security operation was cranked up.

And nowhere was the security more evident than around the massive Thiepval Memorial to the missing soldiers of the Somme - all 72,000 of them.

French police kept a watchful eye as last minute preparations went on for today's service which will be attended by 10,000 guests led by Prince Charles and heads of state from a number of European countries.

Big screens were being erected and TV crews were installing their equipment for the live transmission of the service.

As the rain and mist enveloped the memorial, the strains of music from rehearsals wafted through the gloom.

Everywhere there were reminders of the conflict and the British connection - like the Old Blighty tea house which was doing a roaring trade.

At the Ulster Tower, Royal Irish Regiment soldiers took part in a full scale rehearsal for today's ceremony just minutes before the heavens opened.

100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
A gun salute by 206 (Ulster Battery Royal Artillery) at the Somme Memorial in Thiepval Barracks, Northern Ireland (MoD/PA)
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson and North Belfast MLA William Humphrey at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
DUP MLA Brenda Hale hosts the event "Faith During War" at Stormont's Log Gallery followed by a wreath laying ceremony at Lord Craigavon's grave. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
'Faith During War' event at Stormont's Log Gallery was followed by a wreath laying ceremony at Lord Craigavon's grave. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
Fionnuala Jay O'boyle at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
Brian Kingston at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson and North Belfast MLA William Humphrey at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 - Belfast Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston pictured at a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of he Somme. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when men from the 36th (Ulster) division and the 16th (Irish) division lost their lives. This was commemorated in Belfast with the traditional wreath-laying at the Cenotaph led by Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston on July 01 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott )
Deputy Mayor, Alderman Stephen Martin and Chief Executive, Dr. Theresa Donaldson, laid a wreath at the War Memorial at Castle Street, Lisburn during a Service to commemorate 100 years of the Battle of the Somme. The Service was held with the Royal British Legion (Lisburn Branch). Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council and the Royal British Legion (Lisburn Branch) held a Service of Remembrance today (Friday 1st July) at the War Memorial at Castle Street, Lisburn to mark 100 years of the Battle of the Somme. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Soldiers and MoD civilians gathered at the memorial to the 36th (Ulster) Division in the memorial garden at Thiepval Barracks for a service and act of remembrance led by Senior Chaplain Reverent Alex Bennett. Photo: Kellie Shattock.
Deputy Mayor, Alderman Stephen Martin laid a wreath at the War Memorial at Castle Street, Lisburn during a Service to commemorate 100 years of the Battle of the Somme. The Service was held with the Royal British Legion (Lisburn Branch). Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
An artillery round fired by 206 (Ulster) Battery Royal Artillery at Hillsborough Castle synchronised with the sounding of Last Post by a bugler from 2 Rifles at the Somme Memorial in Thiepval Barracks marked a poignant memorial to those who sacrified at The Somme by today's Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. Photo: Kellie Shattock.
Soldiers and MoD civilians gathered at the memorial to the 36th (Ulster) Division in the memorial garden at Thiepval Barracks for a service and act of remembrance led by Senior Chaplain Reverent Alex Bennett. Photo: Kellie Shattock.
At the Lisburn War Memorial today commemorating the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Deputy Mayor, Alderman Stephen Martin read "In Flanders Field" at the Service of Remembrance. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland. (L-R) Jim Crooks, Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588; Mark Garrett, 'World War One' soldier; and George Chittick, Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, pay their respects at the dawn commemoration service in east Belfast
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland. PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016
PACEMAKER BELFAST 01/07/2016 A special dawn commemoration service and parade was held in east Belfast, organised by Cregagh Defenders LOL 1588, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It was one of many such remembrance events held by the Institution across Northern Ireland.
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Pictured: Councillor Junior McCrum laid a wreath. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Pictured: Councillor Junior McCrum laid a wreath. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Pictured: Rev. Gerald MacArtney of St. John's Church of Ireland led the service in the square. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2016 Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Rathfriland held a Remembrance Service this morning for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The County Down town saw dozens come to attend the early morning service which started at 7.15am. The sound of whistles marked the start of a minute silence, followed by buglers and a lone piper. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

The four main Irish church leaders who are participating in today's service visited the Tower together yesterday and were greeted by Carol Walker, the director of the Somme association.

Mrs Walker said she was confident today's commemoration would go smoothly.

Her parents Teddy and Phoebe Colligan who are the resident custodians of the Ulster Tower have been working flat out helping with the preparations.

Three of their grandchildren, Lisa Walker and Andrew and Michael Colligan have been on duty in the Tower's cafe.

Mrs Walker said: "The biggest challenge has been the high level of security which the French authorities have had to impose. They have peoples' safety in mind and it has been uppermost in our minds too."

Nervous French security forces, who have thrown up a massive ring of steel around today's commemorations, have even been searching memorial wreaths due to be left.

Nearly 3,000 people from Northern Ireland who have travelled to France for the remembrance service at the Ulster Tower at the Somme are being subjected to rigorous security measures by the French who are at full stretch coping with the European 2016 football championships and the threat from Islamic State terrorists after their slaying of 130 people in Paris late last year.

The murderous attacks on Istanbul's international airport earlier this week have also raised concerns that the insurgents could strike again anywhere and at any time.

Members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are among the high profile targets who are going to the Somme and they will be present at the Ulster Tower where over 1,000 of the ticket-only guests are members of Northern Ireland's 57 Somme memorial associations who were warned by the French authorities about what they should and shouldn't bring with them including the type of wreaths they choose.

The chairman of the associations, David Hagan from east Belfast, said: "We were told that wreaths with metal parts could be a problem at the security checks and would be rejected so we have tried to find ones with plastic components."

Members of the Somme memorial associations took part in a number of marches and ceremonies yesterday on the eve of the Ulster Tower service which is one of a number of major commemorations around the Somme to the 60,000 dead and wounded on the first day of the battle.

The Somme groups who've been accompanied by five bands split up yesterday for a series of visits to important French and Belgian memorials with Irish links.

Among the stops was the village of Wytschaete where the associations paid their respects at memorial stones on either side of a road to the 36th (Ulster) and the 16th (Irish) Division who fought side by side at the Battle of Messines ridge.

A Church Army officer at Willowfield Parish Church in Belfast, Captain George Newell, said prayers there and there were also ceremonies at the Tynecot cemetery, at a Scottish memorial and later at the Menin Gate memorial where all the organisations congregated for a united service in the afternoon.

The Somme memorial associations are also planning more parades and commemorations tomorrow when the Royal Irish Regiment are also expected to participate in their own ceremony. Mr Hagan said many of the Somme memorial groups had visited the Somme and the other battlefields before but he added that a number of visitors have been seeing their forefathers' graves or their names on memorials to the missing for the first time.

"The whole visit is proving extremely emotional for everyone," said Mr Hagan.

Over 10,000 people will be at the main ceremony later today at the Thiepval memorial which bears the names of over 72,000 soldiers whose bodies were never found.

But before that there will be a smaller ceremony at the massive Lochnagar Crater which was left by a British mine that exploded at 7.28am on July 1, 1916.

The last ceremony of the day will be the one at the Ulster Tower which was built as a memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who served in the First World War.

Mr Hagan said the sacrifices at the Somme where it's estimated that a total of a million men were killed were gaining more recognition right across Northern Ireland.

Last month, 23,000 people took part in a march through Belfast and a re-enactment of the first day of the Somme was held at Woodvale Park.

Mr Hagan said that he and his colleagues had worked closely with descendants of soldiers from regiments which had been set up in west Belfast for nationalists to join during the Great War.

"We are all remembering the same people who were lost," he said, adding that more and more of the people who are showing an interest in the Somme had no direct family connections to the battle.

Mr Hagan said he had himself had only become aware of the losses at the Somme after community activists re-awakened an interest in the battle in the build-up to its 75th anniversary.

"I couldn't believe it. I had been taught all about English history and the likes of the War of the Roses in school but there wasn't a word about the First World War."

He said he had only recently learned that two of his great uncles on his mother's side had died during the Great War.

"I'm still researching their stories. But there's no doubt that finding out that my own ancestors had been at the Somme has only increased my interest in the war and the sacrifices."

At the Ulster Tower yesterday, rehearsals were held for today's ceremony which will also be attended by the First Minister Arlene Foster and the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Ireland's four main church leaders are taking part in the service along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

East Belfast man Teddy Colligan, who is the resident curator at the Ulster Tower along with his wife Phoebe, said visits to the memorial had been soaring in recent weeks.

He also revealed that a number of journalists from around the world had been compiling reports from the Tower to illustrate the impact of the colossal losses during the battle.

Belfast Telegraph

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