Lance Corporal Richie Spence, 24, from Newtownards, County Down, will have the honour of playing the lament at the end of an all-night vigil and service at Westminster Abbey commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on Friday 1 July.
LCpl Spence, from the Irish Guards, will play Flowers in the Forest standing at the tomb of the unknown warrior at 07.30am, marking the moment one hundred years before that thousands of British soldiers met their deaths as they went ‘over the top’ in the first wave of attack.
Tribute to all who fought
The young Lance Corporal, who was shot by insurgents while serving on Operation Herrick 13 in Afghanistan in 2011, aged just 18, said it would be a huge honour and privilege to play on the anniversary of Britain’s bloodiest battle.
He said: “It’s such an important day. It was a truly horrible war with terrible casualties. You had lads as young as 15, who’d lied about their age to join up, dying fighting for a better cause for their country. I have the utmost respect for those men and boys.
“Everyone should know how special a day it is and realise what they went through for us. No one can imagine how grotesque it must have been. I’ve experienced war but I had the benefit of decent personal equipment and weaponry they never had.”
As well as Afghanistan, the 24-year-old has completed operational tours in Cyprus, the Falklands, and been on training exercises in Kenya and Oman. He said he was proud and honoured to be taking part in the commemorations. “The pipes were used back then just as they are today to fire up soldiers’ morale before they go to face their enemy. The lament is a tribute to all who fought.”
Marking the Somme anniversary
- On the eve of the centenary of the battle, at Westminster Abbey, an overnight vigil will be held, which is open to the public. It will be the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1953 that the Abbey has opened its doors to allow the public access overnight, to pray for peace. Military and civilian personnel with connection to the Battle will perform readings throughout the night and prayers will be said to remember those who sacrificed so much one hundred years ago.
- On July 1st, 100 years to the minute, at precisely 0725hrs on Parliament Square The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery will fire three First World War era 13 Pounder Guns for 100 seconds, with four seconds between each round, to commemorate the end of the artillery bombardment at the Somme. After a National two minutes silence, officers and soldiers from HQ London District will blow whistles for five seconds to mark the time 100 years ago when the ‘boys went over the top’.
- And at precisely 0730hrs LCpl Richie Spence will play Flowers of the Forest at the tomb of the unknown warrior in the Abbey.
As the flowers of Britain’s youth fell on that first hour Britain’s bloodiest battle would go on to rage for another 141 days. The Somme resulted in 419,654 British and Empire casualties but overall is deemed a successful if costly campaign. 600,000 German soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after the offensive.
Lessons learned from the Somme are still applied to modern warfare, as in many ways the complexities faced by men and officers on the ground opposing forces of equal levels of sophistication and abilities still resonate with the challenges all armies face today.