CIVIC dignitaries, ex-forces association members and relatives of Great War veterans gathered at the Bournemouth War Memorial on Friday to mark the centenary of the bloodiest day in British military history.

The Battle of the Somme took place during the First World War and was the largest engagement on the Western Front.

It lasted from July until November 1916 and more than one million men were wounded or killed. 

Addressing those gathered in Bournemouth, Rod Arnold - chairman of the Wessex branch of the Western Front Association - described the first day of the battle as "one of the most tragic moments in our nation's history."

During the service a single whistle was sounded by Jenny Young of the Moordown Historical Society.

This whistle, marking the moment the signal was given to start the advance on the Western Front 100 years ago, was followed in Bournemouth by one minutes' silence.

Wreaths were laid by relatives of the fallen, the Royal British Legion, other ex-services associations and by Bournemouth Mayor Cllr Edward Coope.

Cllr Coope also read The Exhortation, with words from the poem 'For the Fallen' by Robert Laurence Binyon.

Then the names of the twelve Bournemouth soldiers who died on the first day of the battle, on July 1, 1916, were read out by Father John Lavers.

Mr Arnold said: "By the end of the day the British Army had suffered more than 57,000 casualties - over 19,000 of them were dead.

The Battle of the Somme would carry on for a further 140 days. By the end of the campaign around one million men had been killed, wounded or were missing.

Bournemouth Echo:

Among those attending the service was 71-year-old Alfred O'Dell, whose grandfather and two great uncles fought and died at the Somme.

Mr O'Dell, of Poole Lane, Bournemouth, placed flowers at the memorial with the names of his relatives and the words: "Safe in the arms of Jesus. Now marching on streets of solid gold."

His grandfather Private Henry Hayden, Liverpool Pals, was killed in action on July 30. 

Henry Hayden's brother, Private John Hayden, of the King's Regiment (Liverpool), died of his wounds on the same day.

Meanwhile, the third Hayden brother, Private John W Hayden, Connaught Rangers, was killed in action in the battle on September 3, 1916.

Mr O'Dell, himself a veteran of the East Anglian Brigade, said: "My grandfather was attacking a ridge but a big mist came down. They didn't know where they were going and his platoon got machine gunned. The rest of them went on and captured the farm and the ridge but no-one backed them up so it was lost.

"This means a lot to me, I've never known my grandad and my uncles. This will probably be the last commemoration of the Battle of the Somme."

Lois Taylor, representing the WRAC Association, also attended the memorial.
"My father, who died when I was ten, had served at the Battle of the Somme.

He was wounded three times," she told the Echo.

"He was a regular soldier and was in Burma when war broke out. It took him six months to get home, so he arrived in France in January 1915."

Tony Hull, representing the British Korean Veterans Association, said: "My great grandfather was killed on the Western Front. It was important for me to be here today."

Here are the 12 men from Bournemouth who died in the first day of battle

  • Lance Corporal Edward James Barnes, aged 22
    159 Alma Road, Bournemouth
    Hampshire Regiment
    Bertrancourt Military Cemetery

  • Private Frederick Goodwin
    (Born in Bournemouth)
    Royal Berkshire Regiment
    Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension

  • Private Frederick John Fish, aged 21

    1 Josephine Villas, Branksome
    Hampshire Regiment
    Thiepval Memorial

  • 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Edward Flaxman, aged 36

    Grand Avenue, Bournemouth
    South Staffordshire Regiment

    Thiepval Memorial

  • Sergeant George Frederick Ivamy, aged 34

    3 Cardigan Road, Bournemouth
    Worcestershire Regiment
    Thiepval Memorial

  • 2nd Lieutenant Eric Maitland Jellicoe, aged 20

Bournemouth Echo:

St John's Road, Bournemouth
Sherwood Foresters
Foncquevillers Military Cemetery

  • Sergeant Leonard Frederick King, aged 21

    Queen's Westminster Rifles
    Thiepval Memorial#
  • Private Albert Osborne, aged 23

    51 Cardigan Road, Bournemouth
    Dorset Regiment
    Thiepval Memoria

  • Private Edward Walter Ragless, aged 24

    49 Wolverton Road
    Hampshire Regiment
    Thiepval Memorial
  • Private Ernest Edward Tanswell, aged 20

    157 Windham Road, Bournemouth
    Dorset Regiment

    Thiepval Memorial
  • 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Arthur Westmore, aged 22

    Bournemouth Echo:
    West Cliff, Bournemouth
  • Hampshire Regiment
    Sucrerie Military Cemetery
  • Lance Corporal Victor Frank Wills, aged 18

    16 Madison Avenue
    Yorks & Lancs Regiment
    Blighty Valley Cemetery, Authuille Wood

Rod Arnold, of the Wessex branch of the Western Front Association, said: "One hundred years ago today, 120,000 soldiers from the British Isles and Newfoundland were waiting to advance alongside their French allies against the German Army in the valley of the River Somme.

"Suddenly the British artillery bombardment of the German positions which had been going on for several days ceased. An uncanny silence fell over the battlefield.

Bournemouth Echo:

"Close to the river there was an early morning mist but elsewhere the sun, shining out of a cloudless sky, promised a fine summer's day.

"Birds hovered and swooped over the trenches, singing clearly.

"The men were ready, rifles loaded, bayonets fixed, waiting for the signal for them to leave their trenches - a single blast on a whistle blown by their company commander.

"By the end of the day the British Army had suffered more than 57,000 casualties - over 19,000 of them were dead."

In London, people lined Parliament Square to pay tribute, where the two-minute reflection was marked with the sound of gunfire.

People huddled under trees and umbrellas paused from their commutes to stand quietly.

The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery were present, having been at Thiepval on Thursday night.

The soldiers manned three sets of guns, drawn into place by horses, and fired every four seconds for 100 seconds to mark the silence.

Whistles were blown and Big Ben chimed when the two minutes were over, though many still continued to pause in reflection.

We're like to collect as many pictures and names of Dorset soldiers who died in the Somme as we can. If you have a relative you'd like us to include, email Thank you.