We will always remember our fallen

Moving vigils took place to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of Battle of the Somme - one of the deadliest military campaigns in history.

Wednesday, 6th July 2016, 2:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:41 pm
Four of the men from Batley and Birstall who died during the Battle of the Somme. Clockwise from top left: Pte Sam Heaps, L Cpl Herbert Booth, Pte Frank Ward and Pte John Cawthorne. Supplied by Tony Dunlop of Project Bugle.

Hundreds of men from our district died during the offensive, which started on July 1, 1916.

Many of them were shot down on the very first day as they went over the top from the trenches into a hail of machine gun fire.

Thirty six men from Batley and Birstall who died at the Somme, in France, were killed on the first day of the battle.

Forty four others were killed over the course of that month ,including four in other territories, and nearly 200 from the town throughout the 141-day campaign.

Forty one soldiers from Dewsbury were felled soon after the 7.30am whistles were blown on July 1, ending months of stalemate between the Allies and Germans.

Spenborough lost 22 of its young heroes on that day and a further 71 during the offensive, which ended on November 18.

The West Riding Regiment, a company of around 1,000, lost 680 men and 20 officers on that day.

It was later said that a regiment that had taken two years to build was destroyed in ten minutes.

Events have taken place across North Kirklees to remember those who sacrificed their lives during the battle.

Birstall Churches Together and Project Bugle, a First World War commemoration group, held a service at St Peter’s Church in the village last Friday.

The Reverend Paul Knight and Project Bugle leader Tony Dunlop conducted the service.

During the vigil a photograph and details of each of the 36 soldiers from Batley and Birstall lost on that first day were shown to the congregation.

As each soldier’s picture appeared a number was called out and a man from the congregation left his seat, walked to the front, took a lit candle from the Rev Knight, and faced the audience.

At the end of the sequence there were 36 men holding candles and this was followed by a two minute silence.

Mr Dunlop told the congregation: “We see before us the reality of 36 men taken from our midst. Remember – tomorrow and during the next three weeks a further 44 men were also taken from the area. And the gaps left in our congregation tonight show the impact of lost husbands, fathers, sons and uncles. The families’ ordeal was only just beginning.”

A ceremony was held at Whitechapel Church in Cleckheaton on June 30 during which the names of the 22 Spen men who died on the first day were read out.

To mark each hero’s life, a Royal British Legion Spenborough Branch member placed a mini wreath upon the altar.

The service was led by branch chaplain Terry Brewis, the Reverend Brunel James and the Reverend Roger Smith.

The Branch Standard was paraded during a service with hymns, prayers and poetry. The Last Post was played and a two minute silence observed.

Later, the lights of the church were gradually dimmed.

In 1916 the Vicar at Whitechapel Church was the Reverend T S Hyde, who lost two of his three sons during the battle.

And last Friday in Cleckheaton Memorial Park members of the public joined the branch to commemorate the moment 100 years before when three whistles were blown to signal the start of the advance – this was replicated by branch member Paul Bird at exactly 7.30am.

Wreaths were laid by Spenborough branch member Shawn Peel and Wayne McDonald, chairman of the Heckmondwike branch.

The Royal British Legion in Heckmondwike had also organised a service at St James’s Church the evening before.

Dewsbury Sacrifices, a group which commemorates the lives of those from the town who died during the First World War, held a service at the Minster on Saturday.

The Reverend Kathy Robertson conducted the ceremony, which was followed by the showing film footage taken during the war years.

By the end of July 1, 1916, more than 19,000 British men were killed in the Somme.

The battle began when the French army, fighting at Verdun, asked the British to start the Somme offensive earlier than planned in a bid to pull enemy reserves away from Verdun.