Somme vigil and Centenary Commemoration

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Following an all-night vigil to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Epping Forest District Council’s Somme Commemorations ended with an early morning service at North Weald Airfield on Friday 1 July 2016.

Local residents silently braved wind and rain as smoke drifted across the airfield and the sounds of battle shook the early morning.

Commemorating the fallen

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The commemoration begun at sunset on 30 June 2016 as Councillor David Stallan, Vice-Chairman of Epping Forest District Council lit a brazier beside the reconstruction of a WW1 trench.

In memory of the fallen

Lighting the brazier, Councillor Stallan said: “As the sun sets, it is my honour to start the vigil by lighting the brazier which we will be tending throughout the night in memory of the fallen.”

Staff of the Airfield Operations Team, dressed in the British Army uniform of soldiers from 1916. They kept watch over the flames before taking their places for the service of commemoration the following morning led by Father James Rodley of St Andrew’s Church in North Weald.

Our Emergency Planning Officer, Peter Charman also took part in the vigil. Earlier, he told BBC Essex Radio about his great uncle Walter who died on 12 June 1916 and is commemorated on a war memorial in Basra.

The Somme – a memory

Memoirs by George Mitchell, grandfather of Alison Mitchell who also works for the council were read during the night. George fought in and survived the second battle of the Somme as the War gradually drew nearer to conclusion in the summer of 1918.

Killed on the first day

The Somme claimed more than a million casualties, one of whom was Rifleman Paul Kinnell. He was killed in action on the first day of battle on 1 July 1916. John Duffel of the Royal British Legion paid tribute to Paul and all his fallen comrades in an address to the congregation.

He told Paul’s story of a young man born in Church Hill, Epping. His father who died soon after he was born had been a manager at William Cottis & Sons Ironmongers in the High Street. His mother was a teacher.

Paul’s regiment, the London Rifle Brigade took part in a diversionary attack. There was fierce fighting. When the roll call was next taken, 572 men from the battalion were reported killed or missing and Paul was one of them. His body was never found. He was just 22 years old and his name is to be found among those of 73,000 others on the Thiepval Memorial in France.

Keeping the memory alive

Councillor Jeane Lea, Chairman of Epping Forest District Council thanked everyone who defied the atrocious weather and attended the service.

She said: “The Battle of the Somme has entered British folk-lore. It has gone down as the bloodiest episode in the history of the British Army. Hardly a village, hamlet or community was left unaffected and the names of the fallen are to be found on war memorials the length and breadth of the Country.”

“I would like to thank everyone who got up early and made the journey despite the rain to North Weald. By keeping the memory of the Somme alive, perhaps we can play our part in ensuring nothing like it ever happens again.”