Friday, July 1st 2016 marked 100 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles in history, 19,240 men died on that first day alone and more than 1 million were killed or wounded throughout the 4 month offensive. Of those sent ‘over the top’ on that first day were the civilian soldiers belonging to Lord Kitchner’s army and in particular the Salford and manchester pals of the Lancashire Fusiliers were some of the first. Inevitably families and communities in parts of Salford and Manchester were decimated as many of the pals were killed, around 650 salford men on that first day.
This in part was why Manchester was chosen as the place to hold the national commemoration concert on Friday eve. This followed a day of services at the Town Hall, the Cathedral and a procession from the city centre up to Heaton Park where the Concert was held. 19,420 tickets were available for the concert, the exact number of men that died on this first day, made more poignant as the park itself had played host to the basic training of the pals battalions before they were sent off to war. There are even supposed to be some original training trenches still hidden somewhere.
The Park also had an ‘Experience field’ which was dotted with tents and marques and re-enactment folk showcasing all things WW1 and the Somme, including a field kitchen where I learnt all about the food they had. It lacked flavour that bad that families used to send over sauces such a the still staple HP brown sauce! I also didn’t realise that Heinz baked beans were a thing back then too! Then there was the rum ration which you would either get when it was cold or if you were going to go over the top the day after. Very much a bittersweet ration.
As part of the commemoration a ‘path of the remembered’ has been created by people up and down the country by making a ‘memory square’ or tile to remember someone particular, a group of people and the animals involved in the battle of the Somme. I was lucky enough to get a chance to see them all laid out before they are split up between the park, museum and and a remembrance field in the city. I took a few photos of ones that particularly stood out to me and you can look through them below.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.