Services held to commemorate Battle of the Somme on 106th anniversary
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In France, services were held at the Thipeval memorial to the missing of the Somme in Hauts-de-France in the north of the country organised by the Royal British Legion, and also at the nearby Ulster Tower, as well as at Guillemot.
The UK Government was represented in France by the parliamentary under-secretary at the Northern Ireland Office Lord Caine, who said: “This is my 11th visit to the Somme and I never cease to be moved by the solemnity of the occasion.
“The sacrifice made at the Somme, and throughout the Great War, by so many was on a truly heroic scale and as a United Kingdom we must never forget the huge debt of gratitude we owe them. We will remember them.”
In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, services were held across the province.
In Belfast, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Christina Black took part in a wreath laying ceremony.
Alongside her was the party’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, becoming the first member of Sinn Fein’s leadership to take part in the ceremony.
In the official council service, the deputy Lord Mayor Michelle Kelly laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance at Belfast City Hall.
Representing the UK Government, Northern Ireland Office Minister Conor Burns also took part in the Belfast service.
Mr Burns described his, and Lord Caine’s, participation in the commemorative ceremonies as a “great privilege and an honour”.
He added: “We remember all those from across the island of Ireland who selflessly gave their lives for our freedom, during the First World War.
“The Battle of the Somme, in particular, has an enduring link with Northern Ireland given the bravery and sacrifice of the 36th (Ulster) Division and 16th (Irish) Division.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Alan Lewis, meanwhile, was amongst those to attend the Ulster Tower ceremony in France.
Before travelling, Mr Lewis said: “I am very privileged to be in the position of representing constituents each year at the Somme.”
Services were also held elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Noel Williams, was amongst those to pay tribute to those who have ensured the sacrifices at the Battle of the Somme will never be forgotten.
An annual Somme Commemoration also took place at the County Antrim War Memorial at the Knockagh Monument last weekend, with a large turnout of organisations and groups gathering to pay tribute to those who lost their lives.
Alderman Williams thanked those in attendance for their unrelenting commitment to commemorating the battle, and ensuring the legacy of those killed lives on.
The wreath laying was led by Mr Edward Montgomery MBE, Deputy Lieutenant, the Mayor and the High Sheriff, Mr John Lockett OBE followed by the Mayors from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
They were supported by MEA aldermen and councillors.
Officers from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force also participated in the commemoration and laid wreaths.
Also present were Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan, MPs, MLAs, Royal British Legion branches from Carrickfergus, Larne and Whiteabbey, veterans groups, uniformed groups, Orange Order district and local lodges, Friends of the 36th Ulster Division and other community bodies.
The Royal Irish Regiment provided the Memorial Guard, Piper and Bugler.
After the Act of Remembrance, under Parade Marshall, Billy Crozier, Service, Ex-service and other organisations paraded along Monument Road, where the salute was taken by the Deputy Lieutenant, Mayor and High Sheriff.
The Mayor said that the Somme had become symbolic of the bravery and sacrifice during the First World War, adding:
“I want to thank all those involved in the Battle of the Somme commemoration, who came together to reflect on the huge sacrifices that were made,” he said.
“The cost that was paid must never be forgotten, and it is critical that we reflect on that time when so many gave their lives for the liberty we enjoy today.
“Credit to our local organisations and partners for their efforts and commitment to remember those who paid the ultimate price at the Somme.”
The Mayor continued: “Almost every community across County Antrim was affected by the loss of men who had gone to war.
“These commemorations are a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of those who served so bravely and selflessly.
“In October this year it will be a century since the foundation stone was laid at the Knockagh Monument, which was finally completed in 1936. The legacy of those who persevered to make the monument a reality, and who kept the faith in honouring the fallen, should be an inspiration to us all.”