Touching tributes for the heroes of the Somme

Standard bearers at the Somme commemoration in Alnwick.
Standard bearers at the Somme commemoration in Alnwick.

Poignant acts of remembrance were held in north Northumberland communities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

A candle vigil, symbolic whistle blasts, prayers and the laying of wreaths were among the touching tributes paid to First World War heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Alnwick Mayor Alan Symmonds gives a poignant speech at the commemoration.

Alnwick Mayor Alan Symmonds gives a poignant speech at the commemoration.

In Alnwick, Mayor Alan Symmonds, along with members of the Royal British Legion and the Western Front Association, took part in a short commemoration at the war memorial on Friday.

The short service began with a welcome and a poem reading, followed by prayers led by Canon Paul Scott, of St Michael’s Church in Alnwick, the exhortation, the Last Post, a minute’s silence and wreath laying.

The Mayor read a poem, entitled Before Action, which was written by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, of the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment. He was killed on the opening day of the Somme – July 1, 1916 – shortly after the publication of the poem.

The commemoration party remembered the 77 men from the Alnwick District who were killed between June 24 and July 17, 1916; 43 of whom lost their lives on the opening day of the Somme.

Flag of the Northumberland Fusiliers was lowered before the service by Shay Whitfield, 13, of Hepple Army Cadets. Pictures by Mary Scott

Flag of the Northumberland Fusiliers was lowered before the service by Shay Whitfield, 13, of Hepple Army Cadets. Pictures by Mary Scott

Seven of these 43 were from Alnwick and are honoured on the town’s war memorial. They are Lance Corporal William Saunders Bolton; Private William Farrow Douglas; Private James Lothian; Private Robert Blagburn Pattinson; Private George William Pilkington; Private Samuel Willcox; and Captain Arthur Cecil Young.

Standard bearers representing the three services stood in remembrance at three corners of the memorial during the service. The exhortation was given by Sid Porteous, himself a Navy and Territorial veteran, while The Last Post was played by Ron Creasey, ex-Permanent Staff Instructor with the Band for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Wreaths were then laid by Neil Brison on behalf of the Royal British Legion, the Mayor on behalf of Alnwick Town Council and Colin Buxton on behalf of the Western Front Association.

Earlier in the day, the Mayor was also present at the whistle-blowing event at the war memorial.

Group after the service, Coun Steven Bridgett, Rev Michael Boag, Air Vice Marshal (ret) Sandy Hunter and Rothbury Army Cadets, leader Teresa Robson (end back). Pictures by Mary Scott

Group after the service, Coun Steven Bridgett, Rev Michael Boag, Air Vice Marshal (ret) Sandy Hunter and Rothbury Army Cadets, leader Teresa Robson (end back). Pictures by Mary Scott

This was part of nationwide events organised by Western Front Association branches across the country.

Whistles were blown in unison at 7.30am, the time the soldiers first went over the top, to mark the start of the Battle of the Somme.

The tribute in Alnwick was organised by the Western Front Association Northumberland branch, which also organised events at the war memorials in Acklington, Alnmouth, Denwick, Felton and Glanton.

In Rothbury, the Rev Michael Boag, Rector of Upper Coquetdale, presided over two acts of remembrance on Friday, which attracted a large public attendance at each.

Eric Coyle of Netherton lowering the flag of the British Legion, also Rev Michael Boag. Pictures by Mary Scott

Eric Coyle of Netherton lowering the flag of the British Legion, also Rev Michael Boag. Pictures by Mary Scott

The first, following symbolic whistle blasts, saw the flag raised as a piper played and prayers were said. Colonel Tony Glenton, president of the Rothbury branch of the Royal British Legion, took the salute.

In the evening, the Rector introduced the act of remembrance and led those assembled in prayers.

It had been said that, if all the casualties of the Battle of the Somme were to march past the Cenotaph in London, four abreast, as the last men passed by, the first four would be approaching Durham.

In this more sombre ceremony, the names of the 17 men of Upper Coquetdale who died were read out and, as a piper played a lament, the flag – an original Northumberland Fusiliers flag on loan from the Fusiliers’ Museum in Alnwick Castle – was lowered by Cadet Shay Whitfield, from Hepple.

The 17 men from the valley to be killed at the Somme were Alfred Chisam; Henry George Clark; William Dawson; Phillip Downie; William Forster; Robert Gutherson; George Hately; Robert Hounam; James Frederick Hood; Thomas Murray; Francis Alexander McGregor; James McTear; Robert Henry Pringle; James Robert Richardson; James Scott Richardson; James Weallans Rutherford; and George Henry Hall Scott.

Cadets from the Rothbury Detachment of the Army Cadet Force, under the command of Staff Sergeant Teresa Robson, assisted in both ceremonies.

During the two minutes’ silence, the standard of the Rothbury branch of the RBL, borne by Eric Croyle of Netherton, was lowered.

The Rothbury Highland Pipe Band, under Drum Major David Brown, marched off at the end of the evening act of remembrance, acknowledged by the chairman of Rothbury Parish Council Coun Steven Bridgett; Captain Iain Moffat, of the Royal Naval Reserve and former Vice Lord-Lieutenant; and Air Vice-Marshal (retired) and former Deputy Lieutenant for Northumberland Sandy Hunter, who is chairman of the Rothbury branch of the Royal British Legion.

In Amble, the Royal British Legion Riders Branch staged a poignant vigil in the Town Square to commemorate the start of the Battle of the Somme. A candle vigil started at 7.30am on Friday and ran until 11am on Saturday.

Second World War veteran George Skipper, who lives in Whitley Bay but was previously from Amble, was taken from Amble in a sidecar to a commemorative exhibition in Warkworth.

On the Friday, Warkworth had staged a short ceremony at the war memorial in Dial Place to commemorate those who lost their lives on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.