July 3

The Somme remembered

Thiepval MonumentThe London Daily Mail of 1 July, 2006 reported that The Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Royal and Duke of Gloucester joined thousands of people in personal pilgrimages to the battlefields of the Somme to honour those killed in action exactly 90 years ago. They  attended ceremonies along the former front line in northern France to mark the anniversary of the darkest day in British military history.The Mail said that around 5,000 people gathered in front of the soaring Thiepval Monument. The monument, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Charles’s predecessor as Prince of Wales the future Edward VIII, who himself served as an officer in the battle of the Somme.

The   Prince spoke of the “unutterable hell" which the soldiers experienced, stressing that they came from Canada, Britain, Australia New Zealand and India. He said : "It was not just the huge scale of our losses … it was also the fact that for the first time in our history we put mere boys into an assault against the bomb, bullets and the terrible wire entanglements, equipped with little more than raw courage and a deep trust in their young leaders."

Prince Charles  recalled that both the Duchess and he had lost members of their families in the war. The Mail notes that Prince Charles’ own great uncle Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, was killed in the Battle of Loos which preceded the Somme campaign. The Duchess’s family suffered the terrible loss of three brothers, who would have been Camilla’s great uncles, in the 1914-18 war including one – Henry Cubbitt – who died at the Somme in 1916 .Like the 72,000  Commonwealth servicemen listed on the arches of the Thiepval, Alick Cubbit’s body was never found. So it was to the graves of two other unknown soldiers – one French, one British – that the Duchess, looking visibly moved, went at the end of the service.

The Mail continued that with Charles by her side, Camilla stood in silent thought before the headstones after laying posies of roses, chrysanthemums and freesias wrapped in fern. The Prince laid a rather grander wreath of poppies at the centre of the memorial ahead of others from France, Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and Germany.

A simple hand-written message read: "In grateful, admiring and eternal memory. Charles and Camilla." They met a number of ‘Somme Pilgims’ including 110-year-old Henry Allingham, Britain’s oldest man . He served with the Royal Naval Air Service on the Western Front from 1917 and saw many set off for the second battle of the Somme.

According to The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph  of 3 July, 2006, “At the end of the battle, on November 18, 1916, the Allies had advanced a mere 10km at the cost of 125,000 British Empire troops, 7000 of them Australian, and 40,000 French soldiers. The Germans lost 160,000 men.”

 


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