July 1 marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, its impact sent shock waves through the nation, devastating communities across the country.
On the first day alone, the British forces suffered more than 57,000 casualties. By the end of the 141 day long battle, Britain and its allies had suffered over 400,000 casualties.
The city of Peterborough is closely linked with the war effort. For thousands of soldiers, it was an important stop on the journey from the UK to the frontline; many troops signed the guest books at a tea stall in Peterborough East Railway Station on their way to fight at the Somme.
Their stories are being captured on the Peterborough & The Great War project, and I’m delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund is helping bring these to a wider audience.
Peterborough will also be paying respects to Thomas Hunter, ‘the lonely Anzac’ who was injured at the Somme and sadly died of his injuries in Peterborough on his way to a British military hospital in Yorkshire.
The death of this soldier so far from home led to an outpouring of grief with the entire town paying their respects.
Although no one who fought at the Somme is alive today to tell their story, the impact of the battle should never be forgotten.
It’s important that we remember not only the scale and devastation of the battle but also the young men who left their homes and loved ones to serve.
My own grandfather, Clyde Turner served during the First World War and I, like thousands of others, will be reflecting on my family’s personal connections.
Tonight (June 30) overnight public vigils will take place across the country with the national vigil held at Westminster Abbey.
Tomorrow (July 1) we will pay tribute to all those who served with a two minute silence at 7:28am leading up to the moment, at 7:30am, when men went over the top at the Somme.
The national UK commemoration will be held in Manchester on July 1 and will follow a service of remembrance in France held at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
You can be part of this national moment of remembrance in many ways. The Royal British Legion has produced a helpful guide, Remember the Battle of the Somme 1916-2016, with everything you need to pay tribute to those who served.
Closer to home, there are a range of local commemorations taking place across the East of England. You can look for an event near you on the official Remembering Somme map and if you are planning an event, or know of one taking place, you can add it to the map.
It’s simple to do, and will enable local communities to come together to remember this important moment in our history and commemorate the huge sacrifice a generation made 100 years ago.