Banbury British Legion and St Mary’s Church mark the Somme centenary

Reverend Philip Cochrane and Kieron Mallon, President of Banbury Royal British Legion
Reverend Philip Cochrane and Kieron Mallon, President of Banbury Royal British Legion

The Banbury branch of the Royal British Legion and St. Marys Church Banbury marked the start of the battle with a service in the memorial chapel of the church.

The battle of the Somme started this day, June 1, 1916 and lasted until November 18, 1916 with the total number of casualties by all nations involved a little over one million.

By the end of the first day alone a staggering 19,240 British and Empire soldiers had been killed, and the total number of casualties, 57,470, remains the highest suffered by the British army in a single day.

The silent vigil at St Mary’s Church, Horse Fair, Banbury, started with a reading of a soldiers diary from the first day of the battle by Banbury Royal British Legion (RBL) President, Kieron Mallon formally Irish Guards, at 7am.

This was followed by a silent vigil broken by a sharp loud whistle to signify the troops going over the top at 7.30am.

Then followed a haunting lone piper’s lament played by Pipe Major Steve Duffy, formally Scots Guards.

A reading by High Steward Sir Tony Baldry followed and the RBL code was read by RBL Chairman Chris Smithson, formally Royal signals, and the Kohima epitaph was read by Major David Sewell, formally of the Grenadier Guards. The Rev Philip Cochrane led the moving service and prayers.

The RBL and St Mary’s Church invited residents from Banbury and the surrounding areas to take part in the nation’s commemorations by attending this solemn, silent vigil and Service of Remembrance.

Mr Mallon said: “Banbury honoured and commemorated the sacrifice of those who fell at the Somme, on Friday morning. We sat in silence, at the same time that those young soldiers were waiting to go over the top.”

“The Battle of the Somme has come to symbolise the enormous losses and dreadful conditions of the First World War.”

“Banbury formally acknowledged the sacrifice of those who died or were wounded on the first day and indeed the whole battle itself”.

The Reverend Philip Cochrane said: “It is fitting that St. Mary’s memorial chapel was the focus for this service, on the walls are the names of those from Banbury who gave the ultimate sacrifice in world War One.”

“As we sit in silence and pray we remembered the tragic scale of the battle and paid special tribute to those who fell in a short service that followed the vigil.”

“It was heartening to see so many people who joined us before starting their working day and set aside a small amount of their time to remember”

Amongst the congregation were members of the church, the Royal British Legion and the Banbury Household Division Association. Sir Tony Baldry, High Steward of Banbury, the Mayor Councillor Gordon Ross, MP Victoria Prentice and members of Thames Valley Police force.