UK Museums & Galleries Mark The Somme 90th Anniversary

By Richard Moss | 30 June 2006
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a black and white photograph of British soldiers sheltering in a sunken lane

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers wait in a sunken lane for the order to attack. 20 minutes after this picture was taken they were under heavy machine gun fire. © IWM

The 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme will be marked on 1 July 2006 with a day of commemorative events across the Somme area of France.

Although only one solitary British First World War veteran will be in attendance, it will be a poignant ceremony. British forces suffered nearly 60,000 casualties on the first day alone, giving July 1 1916 the unfortunate distinction of being the bloodiest day in British military history.

The total number of casualties when the battle was finally abandoned in November included 420,000 British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 Germans.

To mark this bloody remembrance, museums and heritage sites across the UK have organised a range of exhibitions, commemorative events, talks and screenings. All of them mark the battle and, in their own way, attempt to make sense of the events of 90 years ago.

a black and white photograph of British soldiers in a trench

Shrapnel bursting over Canadian troops in a reserve trench during the fighting near Courcelette, September 1916 © IWM

For many the Battle of the Somme remains an emotive subject and at the National Army Museum, an exhibition opens on July 1 2006 that addresses this by exploring the experiences of ordinary soldiers caught up in it.

Somme 90th Anniversary will ask visitors to make their own minds up by exploring the words of generals, the living and the dead.

It promises to be a powerful and thought provoking exhibition that utilises artefacts, stories, films and audio.

“There are as many ways of interpreting the war as there are people,” says Andrew Robertshaw, the museum’s Head of Education. “What we will be doing in the exhibition is using the words of private soldiers whether they be British, German or French to convey the experience of men who fought in it.”

a black and white photograph of British soldiers in a trench

8th Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders manning a shallow trench in the shattered landscape in front of Martinpuich, 25 August 1916. © NAM

Also in London and befitting a museum founded after the First World War, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) will hold a series of events and exhibitions throughout July - at both its London and Manchester branches.

The IWM in London is commemorating 90th anniversary with three newly commissioned artworks together with an innovative online exhibition exploring the terrible battle.

The artworks were created by Paul Hodgson and are hung alongside works by artists who witnessed the battle or recorded its aftermath first hand. The online exhibition The Battle of the Somme features key items from the museum’s extensive WWI collection that highlight facts about the battle as well as personal stories from those involved.

At IWM North a small exhibition looks at two pivotal British battles - on land and at sea during the First World War. 1916: The Somme and Jutland runs until September 3 2006 and features 20 stunning photographs from the IWM archive – each displayed alongside the words of the men who were there.

a staged photograph of a dead horse being covered by a blanket as two soldiers look on

Paul Hodgson, Slippage. Part of a new commission by the Imperial War Museum. Courtesy IWM, © the artist

Further events at the two IWM sites include a day-long conference, First World War Remembered, at the Lambeth site, whilst both the London and Manchester branches will be hosting special screenings of the first feature-length documentary account made of the battle, Battle of the Somme (1916).

Imperial War Museum North will also be staging a series of tours around its First World War collections between 3 – 14 July on Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.30pm (3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14 July).

Closer Look Tours: The Battle of the Somme, will highlight key exhibits from Imperial War Museum North’s displays and explore some of the issues around the 90th anniversary of the seminal battle of the First World War.

Further activities include more screenings and lectures – see the Imperial War Museum website for more details.

a painting of a dark and autumnal woodland

Somme, Robert Perry. © the artist

The Battle of the Somme will be remembered at Birmingham Museum with an exhibtion of paintings by Robert Perry. Remembering the Somme runs until August 27 2006 and features Perry's landscapes - each capturing the lonely abandoned trenches that can stil be discerned in the Somme region today.

Perry is not a traditional war artist. He works entirely on location, often on a large scale in all weathers and even at night. At a time when battlefield tours and the interest in the Somme battlefields remains high, his atmospheric scenes of lamp-lit and moon-lit trenches offer a poignant insight into the history and emotional impact of the bloody battle and how we remember it today.

A series of meet the artist sessions have been arranged by the msueum starting on Saturday July 1, Saturday July 15 and Saturday August 26. All sessions are on a drop-in basis, 11am – 1pm within Gallery 20.

an old sepia toned photograph of a young man in military uniform

Private Thomas Seville, 7th King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, killed in action leading a bombing party against a German trench at La Boisselle, 4 July 1916.

A grim feature of the Battle of the Somme was the way in which it was the first real test of General Kitchener’s Volunteer Army and in towns across the north of England recruitment of volunteers began in earnest in September 1915.

Brothers, cousins, friends and workmates enlisted together and in Accrington in Lancashire the 'Accrington Pals' soon reached full strength of some 1,000 men.

The Battle of the Somme tragically wiped out many men from the Accrington, Burnley and Chorley 'Pals' battalions and a series of special events, exhibitions, workshops and residencies will commemorate the 90th anniversary in Accrington at the Town Hall and at Haworth Art Gallery from July 1 2006 until September 17 2006.

For more details phone 01254 233 782.

Also in Lancashire the Harris Museum in Preston is planning an exhibition that tells the stories of eight brave Preston soldiers who fought in the First World War.

Tying in with the 80th anniversary of the city's cenotaph, the exhibition opens on September 9 2006 and features the story of Private William Young, of the East Lancashire Regiment, the only Prestonian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

After climbing over the parapet to save his sergeant, Pte Young was hit by two bullets one in his chest and another which shattered his jaw. The 39-year-old, who lived in Heysham Street, Preston, survived the conflict but died months later during an operation to reconstruct his jaw.

a black and white photograph of british soldiers in a trench

1st Lancashire Fusiliers fixing bayonets prior to an assault on Beaumont Hamel, 1 July 1916. Part of the Imperial War Museum North exhibtion 1916: The Somme and Jutland. © IWM

In Northern Ireland a special exhibition to mark the 90th anniversary is being held at the Carnegie Museum and Arts Centre in Larne, County Antrim.

Facilitated by Larne Arts and Heritage Service and by Mid-Antrim Museum Service the exhibition has been organised with the help of local people whose relatives fought at the Battle of The Somme.

It features artefacts sourced by local collectors and enthusiasts together with a wealth of material ranging from militaria to photographs to documents – each telling the story of local Ulster Battalions and the men who laid down their lives in France in 1916.

Running from July 3 – July 21 2006, the exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 12.30pm-5pm.

In Durham, The Somme Remembered is an exhibition running at the that gives people the opportunity to see a selection of original letters, diaries, trench maps, sketches and photographs dating from 1916.

Together they reveal the impact of the Battle of the Somme on the lives of both individual soldiers and the communities of County Durham.

photo of an inscribed wooden cross on a stone wall with a footplate with the quote Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria mori

"Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori" (it is sweet and honourable to die for one's country) comes from a line of Horace and is the title of a Wilfred Owen poem. Courtesy Durham Light Infantry Museum and Durham Art Gallery

The exhibition runs until July 16 2006 and also includes three remarkable crosses erected as memorials on the Somme Battlefields of 1916 – they have been brought together for the first time in 80 years.

North of the border on July 1 the interpretation team at Edinburgh Castle is hosting a special programme of events, open to all, to teach about the battle and why it must never be forgotten.

Included will be a series of small interpretive presentations and re-enactments, encouraging visitors to visualise the Battle, from the first tragic day onwards, witnessing the early enthusiasm of the troops changing into panic and terror.

Alasdair Duffy, the Pipe Major of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, dressed in traditional uniform from the First World War, will be piping a lament to honour the special commemoration.

On Saturday July 1 in East Sussex is hosting a Brothers in Arms event to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The gates will open at 10:30am and will feature a programme of special events throughout the day.

Battle of the Somme Book cover

The MOD's Veterans Policy Unit have produced a booklet about the Battle of the Somme. See below for details.

At midday a ‘Brothers in Arms’ First World War enthusiast and historian Andrew Denley will give a lecture, detailing the Battle of the Somme.

The Croix de Lorraine re-enactment society will be on site dressed in army uniforms and will be providing a display of First World War artefacts and firearms of the period.

A special exhibition looking at the role the British West Indian, Chinese and other Commonwealth soldiers played during First World War will also be available in the school room and has been organised in partnership with Black History.

To tie in with the Battle of the Somme’s 90th anniversary commemoration events the MODs Veterans Policy Unit have produced a booklet about the battle that gives a good overview of the background to the First World War, the British Army, preparations and tactics for the battle.

Also included are details of the battle itself and those who fought in it, the aftermath of the battle and details of the site today.

Download the booklet in pdf format

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