The Somme: Why We Need To Remember Britain’s Bloodiest Battle

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Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the bloodiest battle in British history, the Battle of the Somme.

Across the country, people are remembering those men who bravely sacrificed their lives fighting in some of the worst conditions imaginable, the BBC reports.

On the first day alone, the British suffered almost 60,000 casualties and overall more than one million soldiers from all sides were killed and wounded during the six-month long battle, which was the first to feature tanks.

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At 07:28 this morning, the nation fell silent to mark the moment, back on 1 July 1916, when the first wave of men went over the top of the trenches.

A memorial ceremony was held at Lochnagar crater on the battlefield in Northern France last night, while the Queen attended a vigil at Westminster Abbey.

The Queen laid flowers on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior who, as the name suggests, is an anonymous British soldier whose body was brought back and buried in the abbey to honour those who died anonymously on the battlefield.

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At Lochnagar crater, a rocket was fired into the air to simulate the artillery fire, followed by whistles symbolising the moment soldiers clambered out of the trenches and went into battle.

Meanwhile, at Thiepval memorial in France, the Duke of Cambridge paid tribute to the courageous soldiers who died a century ago, saying ‘we lost the flower of a generation’.

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He said: 

We lost the flower of a generation; and in the years to come it sometimes seemed that with them a sense of vital optimism had disappeared forever from British life.

It was in many ways the saddest day in the long story of our nation.

Tonight we think of them as they nerved themselves for what lay ahead. We acknowledge the failures of European governments, including our own, to prevent the catastrophe of world war.

In attendance were hundreds of descendants of those who fought in the battle, as well as the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

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Before the speech, the royals climbed to the top of a monument designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens which is dedicated to the 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave.

 The Very Reverend Dr John Hall said at the vigil:

As we imagine the feelings of those preparing for battle, the vigil will allow us to reflect on the cruel effects of warfare and to pray for lasting peace and justice in the world.

The battle lasted from July 1 to November 18 in 1916 and ended with British and French forces penetrating six miles into German-occupied territory, taking back more ground than any other battle since Marne in 1914.

However, debate still rages over the necessity, significance and effect of the gruesome battle.