Battle Of The Somme Centenary: Poppies On The Leas

School children at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone, 2016
Sandgate Primary schoolchildren get stuck in, poppy planting on the Leas.

Folkestone children took part in a poignant commemoration of the last day of the Battle of the Somme last Saturday.

To mark 100 years since the end of the British army’s bloodiest battle, families and schools from the area came together on the Leas on the morning of Saturday 19 November 2016 to plant hundreds of steel poppies around the artwork Folk Stones.

Created by artist Mark Wallinger for the 2008 Folkestone Triennial, Folk Stones features 19,240 numbered pebbles representing the British servicemen lost on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Wallinger himself attended Saturday’s event along with the Mayor and Mayoress of Folkestone, Martin and Sheila Salmon, Folkestone and Hythe MP and Step Short’s Chairman Damian Collins, and organisers Roger Joyce of Shepway HEART Forum and Ann Berry of Step Short.

The local community turned out in their hundreds, including pupils from St Martin’s, St Eanswythe’s, St Mary’s and Sandgate primary schools.

According to Centenary News, Martin Salmon said: “Today’s proceedings are a fitting way that this town can remember the sacrifices made to enable us to live in freedom and peace 100 years later.

“At their peak, the three camps in the town were seeing in excess of 10,000 men passing through every day. The rest camps were a blessing for the men, for many of whom it was their final day on English soil.”

Roger Joyce, Chairman of Shepway HEART, read a poem written by Eric Berridge, an officer from Folkestone who died during the Battle of the Somme.

Damian Collins said: “What has been wonderful throughout this series of important and poignant centenaries is that people have demonstrated their interest, and their understanding, and their desire for remembrance and commemoration of these terrible events and the sacrifices that men made.”

The event was organised by Shepway HEART Forum (a local heritage and arts organisation), Step Short and the Shorncliffe Trust.

Ann Berry & Mark Wallinger, Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Step Short’s Chairman Ann Berry and artist Mark Wallinger on the Folk Stones.
Counting the Folk Stones, Poppies on the Leas November 2016
Local children tackle the impossible task of counting the Folk Stones.
Mayoress Sheila & Mayor Martin Salmon, Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone’s Mayoress Sheila and Mayor Martin Salmon.
St Martin's pupils, Poppies on the Leas Folkestone 2016
St Martin’s pupils preparing to plant their poppies.
Local children at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone’s young people mark the Battle of the Somme Centenary.
Schoolchildren at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone families get busy planting.
Local schoolchildren at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Children from St Mary’s Primary Academy help Folkestone to remember the end of the Battle of the Somme.

Somme 100

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The Battle of the Somme raged for five bloody months, from 1 July to 18 November 1916. A joint operation between France and Britain, the unprecedented action was designed to finally end 18 months of deadlock in the trenches and to force the Germans back from the Western Front.

Somme Strategy

British military strategy was largely the work of Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Henry Rawlinson, commanders with no previous experience of planning such a huge offensive.

Enthused by Lord Kitchener’s recruitment campaign, newly recruited battalions of ‘Pals’ made up Britain’s volunteer army. They were trained and ready for action by the summer of 1916. British forces also included servicemen from Ireland, Newfoundland, Canada, West Indies, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The First Day

On the first day of the battle, 57,470 British soldiers were injured and of them 19,240 died. This video from the Imperial War Museum shows a Battle of the Somme War Office film following British forces on the first day. Many now believe that a combination of misplaced optimism, flawed tactics and inadequate/defective weaponry characterised what was a battle of attrition, and a massacre.

Legacy of the Somme

By its close, this brutal and unforgettable battle had claimed 420,000 British, almost 200,000 French and 500,000 German lives. There were 1,300,000 casualties in total. The Allies had gained just six miles of territory and the First World War was to continue for another two long years.

There has been much debate about the strategy and legacy of the Battle of the Somme, but despite its devastating consequences it is considered by many to have been a significant step towards the Allies’ victory in 1918.

To all of those who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme, 1st July to 18th November 2016.

A poem written by Mr A Wilson, brother-in-law of Ray Whitewood who shared it with Step Short. Mr Whitewood is a veteran of the Fusiliers. His grandfather, James Albert Moore, died in the Great War.

Thousands of soldiers in meadow green
The biggest army the world has seen
I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916

They killed their first foe with a bullet so true
They didn’t care and neither did you
The boy thought it was rain he felt on his face
But it was tears that were falling
For the whole human race

I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916
The trains they are coming they all look the same
But for all of you waiting you all wait in vain

The biggest mass slaughter in 1916
Why did it happen nobody knows
The pain is intense it goes on and grows
It’s no good waiting for them to return
They won’t be back I just hope we learn

I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916

Find out more about the Battle of the Somme and Centenary events on the British Legion website.

Canada Day & Somme Commemorations, 1 July 2016

soldier-cover-a4-724x1024Join Step Short in Folkestone on 1 July 2016 to remember the soldiers who lost their lives a century ago. This year, commemorations will mark both Canada Day and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.

Shepway District Council has organised a ceremony under the Memorial Arch in Folkestone beginning at 7.30am on Friday 1 July. The event will be launched with the ‘blowing of the whistles’, the signal for soldiers 100 years ago to ‘go over the top’. Ben Millbery is scheduled to play the Flowers of the Forest (Lament for the Fallen), the official lament of the Canadian forces.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. On 1 July 1916, 57,470 British soldiers were injured and 19,240 of those died. The British forces were made up of troops from Britain, Ireland, Newfoundland, South Africa and India. Just three square miles of territory were gained.

On 1 July, Shorncliffe Military Cemetery will also host a Canada Day service to remember the 305 Canadian soldiers who died during the Great War and are buried there. The cemetery is open between 11am and 1pm on the day.