A light in the darkness for those who fell at the Somme

Shorncliffe Military Cemetery lights 550 lanterns for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

On a clear night in August, people gathered at Shorncliffe Military Cemetery. They came to remember the soldiers buried there, a century after their sacrifice.

Shorncliffe Army Camp

Shorncliffe's history goes back further than the First World War. It's been home to British and foreign troops since 1796. In 1803 it saw General Sir John Moore start the innovative training regime that created the Light Infantry.

This year’s Light in the Darkest hour is dedicated to Commonwealth and foreign soldiers who fought and died alongside British Soldiers at the Somme Christopher Shaw, chairman and heritage consultant at The Shorncliffe Trust

It's military connections continued into the 20th century. It played a prominent role during the First World War. With Boulogne just across the channel, Shorncliffe became the gateway to the Western front. It would see over a million men pass through to the battlefields of France.

Of those men, not all were British. Shorncliffe was also home to Commonwealth troops. Over 650,000 Canadian troops trained there before fighting at Vimy Ridge in 1917.

Shorncliffe today

It was because of this rich history that the Shorncliffe Trust was setup. It aims to preserve and protect the heritage of Shorncliffe camp, telling the stories of the thousands of people who were a part of Shorncliffe over the last 200 years.

The inscription, in Dutch, French and English, reads: "The Belgian soldiers honoured here gave their lives in the service of their homeland and lie buried in this plot."

It was on 6 August 1916 that Commonwealth soldiers saw one of their largest battles at the Somme. So Shorncliffe held their commemorative event a 100 years later to the day.

The event on that August evening featured a commemorative service and a candlelit vigil. Lanterns were placed on each of the 600 graves of soldiers from the First World War and, in a touching display of community, they were lit by volunteers, family members and members of the public.

In keeping with Shorncliffe's Commonwealth history, the guests of honour were the Canadian Cadets. The 2nd Batt Royal Gurkha Rifles, the military wives choir, and local schools also came.

A wreath from the Royal British Legion sits alongside a Canadian one.

Christopher Shaw, chairman and heritage consultant at The Shorncliffe Trust, said: “This year’s Light in the Darkest hour is dedicated to Commonwealth and foreign soldiers who fought and died alongside British Soldiers at the Somme. The evening title reflects their sacrifice – ‘Light in the Darkest Hour – hands across the ocean’.

“Shorncliffe has always been home to foreign troops, from the German Legion in the Victorian era to the Gurkhas stationed there today. The cemetery holds over 600 graves and there are soldiers from Belgium, Australia, China, South Africa and Canada buried there alongside their British brothers in arms.”

The ‘Light in the Darkest Hour, Hands Across the Ocean’ event is supported by the Royal British Legion as part of our Somme 100 programme. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s ‘Living Memory Projects’ is enabling communities to Remember those lost during the Somme.

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