The Battle of The Somme 100 years on
Friday the 1st of July 2016
At 7am a service of remembrance will be held at the Commonwealth War Graves section of Ashley Road cemetery in Epsom.
In the years before the First World War, Epsom was the home of several large hospitals dealing with mental illness. On the outbreak of war the patients were transferred out and the military took over. The Grandstand at Epsom racecourse was also converted to deal with the sick and wounded. Woodcote Park, the home of the RAC country club, became another with up to 4000 patients in 1916.
Many of the soldiers from all over the old British Empire were treated in these hospitals for wounds and illness and later at the wars end for influenza, better known as ‘Spanish Flu’. Many succumbed to their injuries and illnesses. Whilst some were buried near their homes, many including Canadian and Indian soldiers were interred in Epsom’s main cemetery just below the Derby racecourse. In all over 55,000 military patients were treated in Epsom.
While many men were buried amongst the civilian burials, 149 of them were placed to rest in a special war graves plot. This lies near the main road from town to racecourse behind Epsom’s main war memorial. Guarded over by a Cross of Sacrifice, their names are recorded on brass plaques affixed to a wall. The men are buried three to a grave, close comrades even in death, and unusually are buried without headstones.
On the morning of the 1st of July 2016 a service will be conducted by Mr Peter Joyce, lay preacher, and Mr Tim Richardson, historian and veteran. The service will include the St Mary’s Morris men playing the tune ‘The Battle of The Somme’ on traditional instruments; the violinist, Richard Smith, playing Vaughan-Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’; and, at the close, the blowing of 1916 dated Trench whistles – timed for exactly 7.30 am, when the infantry assault began. As the sound dies away a silence will follow, then the Last Post and Binyon’s immortal words.
The service will be preceded with the showing of the 1916 film ‘The Battle of The Somme’, to be seen at Bourne Hall the night before, followed by a sunset service with the Epsom Male Voice Choir in Bourne Hall Park. The film starts at 7.30 pm, the service at approximately 9 pm.
The flags above the Town Hall and in the Market Place will be lowered to half-mast on the 1st of July to remember not just the 10 Epsom men who fell on the fateful first day of the battle but all who suffered, not just the soldiers but also their families and friends.
All are welcome to attend both events. Both are free but a collection will be made for service charities.
Further information can be found by contacting David Brookes at Bourne Hall Museum 020 8394 1734.