This week marks a new era for the UK, which will be parting ways with the European Union. This historic and unprecedented event has already led to a furore of uncertainty and fear over our role and relationships with Europe.
This week also marks another historic event that involved a European alliance: 100 years ago on July 1, 1916, the Battles of the Somme began in France and raged until the end of the war, two years later.
So many people lost their lives at The Battle of the Somme that over the years, it has come to symbolise the tragic futility of World War I. The first day of the conflict remains the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, where too many young, eager and impressionable men from the UK lost their lives. There were over 420,000 British casualties in the 141 days of the Somme including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone. The French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000.
While we are enjoying a year of sport with the Euros and the Olympics, it is interesting to note that the sporting ethos also rose during the Battle, with athletes and players from sports at all levels volunteering to enlist.
Entire teams formed ‘Pals’ Battalions serving alongside each other with battalions dedicated to athletes, footballers, and individual clubs and teams. From cricketers to boxers to footballers to Olympic stars, the sporting elite signed up to fight for their country. Many lost their lives and so the phrase the Lost Generation was attributed to them.
Events are, and have been taking place around the UK to remember the fallen. If you have the chance, visit Exeter Cathedral on July 1st where actors Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton are to feature in a Devon concert marking the Battle of the Somme centenary. The concert is a conclusion to a day of commemorations beginning with the unveiling of a major art project remembering every man killed at the Battle of the Somme.
On the same day, an all-night vigil will be held in Wales to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, taking place in Cathays Park, Cardiff . At Bristol Cathedral, the South Quire Aisle of the Cathedral is now home to a display, which includes two touch-screen PCs for viewing the online book of remembrance. The venue is also hosting a World War I exhibition until 31 August, entitled No News of Fred.
The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford is staging a walking tour of Oxford’s contribution to the Great War on 3 July. The tour will highlight the many well-known colleges and public buildings which were converted into hospitals and for military use as well as the experiences of famous historical and literary figures, including Siegfried Sassoon and T E Lawrence.
Then as now, we are entering a period of insecurity and unfamiliarity. The mistakes and tragedy of the First World War are highlighted and remembered a century on in local events across the nation with people coming together to reflect rather than celebrate the Battle of the Somme.