Remembrance Ceremony – 1st July

Over the years our annual Ceremony on the 1st of July has grown and developed, attracting up to 1,500 people to the tiny French village of La Boisselle. The Ceremony commences at 7.28am.

Organised by Richard Dunning MBE, an official Ceremony has been held at the Lochnagar Crater every year since 1979, at first it was a very simple affair, being attended by just four people and of course, the cross had yet to be erected. That first cross was installed in 1986, in time to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

Over the years the Ceremony has grown and developed, attracting up to an estimated 1,500 people to the tiny French village of La Boisselle. The Ceremony commences at 7.28am.

Although no two ceremonies are the same, over the years they have developed and conform to a recognisable format. Ceremonies such as the Lochnagar Crater Ceremony, do not ‘just happen’, much time and effort is expended in planning and preparation. Many people generously give their time and expertise to ensure that each one is a unique and moving experience.

What’s needed? – a few of the ‘ingredients’ are: fireworks, pipers, whistles, standard bearers, singers, programme distributors, a sound system, wreath layers, the Chaplain, poppy and cornflower petals, a coordinator, and of course the site has to be prepared beforehand.

For Richard, and Iain Fry (Vice-Chairman of the Friends), preparation for the next Ceremony commences very soon after the end of the current Ceremony, but for most of the ‘Friends of Lochnagar‘, preparation starts in earnest in late May. When for a few days around the late May bank holiday, those of the ‘Friends’ who can make the journey to the Crater, spend the time ‘gardening’ and keeping the foliage down to ensure that the Crater looks at its best for 1st July.

The Ceremony

The Ceremony lasts about an hour, commencing at 07.28am with the firing of a maroon and the blowing of whistles (whistles were blown in the trenches to signal to the men that they must ‘go over the top’ to face the machine guns). As soon as the maroon is fired, a lone piper, from the far side of the Crater, walks towards the cross playing ‘The Battle of the Somme’.

The Ceremony starts with the firing of a maroon, and immediately afterwards a Lone Piper walks from the far side of the Crater towards the Cross playing ‘The Battle of the Somme’.

The congregation is welcomed to the Ceremony by Richard, with a translation into French by Rebecca Prissette. Click the link for a full transcript of Richard’s 2023 special message.

After the welcome from Richard, the Chaplain gives an opening prayer and address and up to 75 wreaths are laid, including gerbes (French floral tributes).

As well as wreaths and gerbes, there are readings and poems, including an annual reading of a poem written by veteran Harry Fellows.

For several years, contemporary songs were sung by sisters Rachel and Jennifer Wilbur.

After all the wreaths have been laid the congregation accompanied by the Somme Pipe Band sing the hymn ‘Abide With Me’.

As an act of reconciliation, the Lord’s Prayer is spoken in English, French and German.

The Exhortation, a verse from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon is read in English, French and German:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The ‘Last Post’ is sounded and Standards are slowly lowered. A two minute silence follows, after which ‘Reveille’ is sounded and Standards are raised.

Near the end of the Ceremony, everyone is invited to scatter poppy and cornflower petals into the Crater, and then to link hands around the rim as a symbol of reconciliation. A final maroon signals the closing of the Ceremony.