Memories stirred at Somme exhibition

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Memories are being stirred ahead of #Somme100, the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme later this week.

Members of the public have begun to arrive at a special exhibition in the Control Tower of North Weald Airfield, while work is almost complete on a replica of a WW1 trench outside.

Respects to the Fallen

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Volunteers from the Royal Gunpowder Mills are helping to manage the exhibition with further contributions from the Epping Forest District Museum and the Airfield Operations Team.

Airfield staff will mount an all-night vigil in the trench as a mark of respect for the men who fought the bloodiest battle in British military history. They tried on their uniforms as the first members of the public arrived for the exhibition. The commemorations will culminate in an early morning service at North Weald Airfield at 7.30am on the morning of Friday 1 July, ‘H’ hour when the first British troops went ‘over the top’.

Sounds of battle will reverberate across the airfield before the service in which readings will be given from the Great War. The service is open to all.

The memory of his sacrifice should be kept alive

Pam Gardiner was among the first residents to visit the exhibition. Her father served in the Yorkshire Kings Own Light Infantry before transferring to the Warwickshire Regiment. He fought on the Western Front and was wounded twice.

He never spoke about his experiences but Pam believes he was deeply influenced by the experience and feels it is important that the memory of his sacrifice should be kept alive.

Local men who lost their lives

Other memories will be stirred on Friday by John Duffel of the Royal British Legion. 20,000 British soldiers lost their lives on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

John has researched the names and histories of local men who lost their lives during the battle. He will address the service of commemoration with the story of just one of those men, Paul Kinnell, killed in action on the first day – 1 July 1916.

Memory from the Somme

Corporal George Mitchell front right - Corporal was as far as he ever wanted to go.

Preparation for the commemorations has also brought back memories for Alison Mitchell and her family. Alison works for Epping Forest District Council. Her grandfather was a corporal during the Battle. Men came from all walks of life. George Mitchell joined the Civil Service Regiment shortly after his own father was lost in the sinking of HMS Cressy at the start of the War.

While Pam Gardiner’s father was unable or unwilling to talk about the war, Alison’s grandfather wrote about his experiences. In a ‘Memory from the Somme’ he describes digging his with his bare hands, trying in vain to save fallen comrades buried by a direct hit on the trench in which they were sheltering. His diaries are now held at the Imperial War Museum.

Stories of the Somme including the memories of George Mitchell will be shared by Epping Forest District Council online and via Facebook and Twitter during the all-night vigil starting at dusk on Thursday 30 June 21016.

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