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Somme centenary service in France marks end of bloody battle

By Sophie Inge and PA

Published 19/11/2016

Piper Lance Corporal Richie Spence of the Irish Guards during the service at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France
Piper Lance Corporal Richie Spence of the Irish Guards during the service at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France
Servicemen and women lay wreaths
Steve Kelliher of the Royal Army Medical Corps with Second World War veteran Thomas Gurley

A Remembrance service attended by 2,000 people fell silent in France yesterday as it marked the 100th anniversary of the final day of the Battle of the Somme.

The British and French national anthems were played at the Thiepval Memorial heralding the end of the bloody four-and-a-half month offensive which started on July 1, 1916.

To mark each day of the battle a daily service had been held at the towering monument, which is inscribed with the names of more than 72,000 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered or identified.

In July an international service attended by figures including the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and then Prime Minister David Cameron was held marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle.

A more low-key ceremony was held yesterday to commemorate the centenary of the final day of the battle, which was fought by 60 nations from across the British Empire and Europe over a 15-mile front in northern France.

Guests- including the British ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn of Steep - braved downpours during the service, which was led by Bishop James Newcome, the Royal British Legion national chaplain.

The Rev Stephen Hancock, chaplain to the Royal British Legion Somme branch, said: "The trees and fields today mask the horror that once came here.

"I pray God that is never repeated and I pray God that the people who died are remembered."

The Last Post was followed by a two-minute silence and wreath-laying. A lone piper led a military escort of the wreaths to the nearby memorial where they were laid.

Fermanagh man Rodney Corrigan - whose grandfather's cousin died at the Somme - was among those who attended.

"I had looked into going earlier, but there wasn't anything available with the flood of demands. I just happened to see this service advertised so I put my name forward and got the ticket," he said.

"It was a very good service - very well-organised, as you'd expect by the British Legion and the War Graves Commission.

"Unfortunately the weather wasn't kind, but it puts things into perspective when you think of what the men and boys out there would have had to endure."

After the service Mr Corrigan walked around the Thiepval Memorial, which is carved with the names of the thousands of missing British Empire servicemen, including William Edward Morrow, his grandfather's cousin.

Carol Walker of the Somme Association based in Conlig, Co Down, paid her tribute to the thousands of local men who fought and died in the battle.

"The figures are still hard for us to comprehend so many years on, with the loss of somewhere in the region of 420,000 British casualties," she said.

"Only a few miles were gained for this unimaginable loss of life. The 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions both played their part in the Somme campaign and their sacrifices along with so many others should never be forgotten.

"Many came home broken men, both mentally and physically, and lived with their scars until they died.

"We should never forget what they gave for our freedom and democracy."

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