Royal plans for Somme commemoration unveiled

Infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme
Infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme

Buckingham Palace has released details of senior royals’ engagements around the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme.

At Westminster Abbey, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will join the congregation for an evening vigil on June 30, the eve of the conflict’s start, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will attend events in France during the same period.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will also travel to the continent to attend commemorative services.

Beginning on July 1 1916, the Battle of the Somme was intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French against Germany’s forces.

But the first day became the bloodiest in British milita ry history with more than 57,000 casualties recorded - of these 19,240 were fatalities.

The battle became a costly stalemate and by the time it ended in November 18 that year, it had claimed more than a million casualties on both sides.

William, Kate and Harry will attend commemorative events in France on June 30 and July 1, while Charles and Camilla and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester will also be in the country for other services on July 1.

On the day the battle began a national commemorative service will be held at Manchester Cathedral attended by the Duke of York, and the Princess Royal will remember the fallen at events in Canada from June 29 to July 1.

To mark the battle’s centenary overnight, events will also take place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and at the Imperial War Museum London.

Further details about the royal engagements are expected to be released at a later date.

The Government has already announced plans for commemorations on July 1 at Thiepval, in northern France, where the memorial stands to more than 72,000 men who died in the Somme and have no known grave.

Events will also take place across the battlefields at Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and memorials.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said last year: “We must never forget the scale of what happened at the Somme. More died on the first day of battle than any other day of the First World War.

“Almost every family in the country was touched by the devastating losses.

“I hope people of all generations up and down the country will have the chance to attend an event and honour the bravery of those who sacrificed so much.”

It comes after news emerged of free tickets being made available to the Queen’s upcoming birthday celebrations.