Services held in Northern Ireland and France to mark Somme anniversary

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Commemorations have taken place in France and Northern Ireland to mark the 102nd anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

Hundreds from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland travelled to northern France to remember those who fell at the Battle of the Somme.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley led the tributes at the Royal British Legion service at Thiepval, and the Somme Association services at the Ulster Tower and Guillemont.

“It is important that we remember all those from across the island of Ireland who gave their lives for our freedom during the First World War,” Ms Bradley said.

“The Battle of the Somme in particular has an indelible link with Northern Ireland given the remarkable bravery shown, and the scale of the sacrifice made, by the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division.

“It is difficult for us to comprehend the horror that these men faced as they went forward into battle, but their contribution and sacrifice was immense and we should never, ever forget it.

“We are indebted to organisations such as the Royal British Legion and the Somme Association and Somme Heritage Centre who work tirelessly to ensure that their heroic contribution is always remembered.”

In Belfast, Deputy Lord Mayor Emmet McDonough-Brown led the Somme commemorations at City Hall.

“It was a personal and political privilege to lead the procession on behalf of the citizens of Belfast,” he said.

“Unsurprisingly I am very mindful of the hurt and pain that occurs when lives are lost. In my own family, I am proud of my grandfather who fought fascism as a pilot with the RAF in World War Two, and also of my great uncle who died just before Armistice Day as a medical orderly.

“Those who went before me and who fought the evils of their time are uppermost in my mind today.”

DUP MPs for east, north and south Belfast, Gavin Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Emma Little-Pengelly, were among the others to lay wreaths at the cenotaph.

Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey laid a laurel wreath shortly before the official service, following the tradition of Sinn Fein members in the top city post.

The Battle of the Somme started on July 1 1916.

The first day of the battle remains the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

Some 19,240 troops – including many from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – were killed within 24 hours.

The Ulster Tower is dedicated to the soldiers of the 36th Ulster division while a Celtic cross in Guillemont is in memory of men from the 16th Irish division who died fighting in the nearby fields.

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