Durham Cathedral is preparing to welcome visitors and pilgrims from far and wide as they come to the Cathedral to remember those killed during the Battle of the Somme, on the centenary of this tragic event.
A series of services will be held at the Cathedral from Thursday 30 June through to Saturday 2 July and three original wooden crosses from the French battlefields will be on display from 2 July, forming a unique exhibition in the Cathedral’s South Transept.
The special services begin on 30 June – the eve of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – starting with a dedicated Evensong at 5.30pm. This will be an opportunity to remember the sacrifice of all those involved, in particular the soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry. Of the 15,000 soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry who fought on the Somme, over half were wounded, killed, or reported missing.
From 6.30pm – 9.30pm members of the congregation can come and go as they wish to pay their respects and remember in whatever way feels most appropriate. The Cathedral is looking for contemporary material to use in readings for the service. If any member of the public has any surviving personal diaries, letters or postcards from this time, they can email copies to firstname.lastname@example.org where they will be considered for inclusion in the service.
On 1 July a team of motorcyclists from the Royal British Legion Riders Branch will arrive at Durham Cathedral at 7.30am and will blow a whistle used to signal the start of the Battle of the Somme, to start a 24 hour ride around the North of England in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The whistle will be blown at various places around the North of England during the ride. Members of the organisation will also be holding a vigil in the DLI Chapel at the Cathedral while they await the return of the riders.
Also on 1 July, another special Evensong will be held at 5.15pm to mark the first day of fighting at the Battle of the Somme.
On Saturday 2 July a free event to listen to transcriptions from Hensley Henson’s wartime diary is held in the Cathedral’s Prior’s Hall from 10.00am – 12.15pm. Hensley Henson was Dean of Durham during the First World War. This was also the time of the National Mission and a speaker will explore this significant wartime church initiative.
This is a free event with donations of £10 welcome on the day. Contact email@example.com or call 0191 386 4266 to reserve a place.
Following this event a Requiem Eucharist will be held at 12.30pm which will be attended by members of the Royal British Legion Riders Branch, following their 24 hour ride. All are welcome.
Also on 2 July, the exhibition of the Butte de Warlencourt crosses begins in the South Transept. Following the Battle of the Somme, three battlefield crosses were erected on top of a chalk hill called the Butte de Warlencourt. They were made in memory of the soldiers of the 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions Durham Light Infantry who had died there in November 1916.
Today, one of these crosses is housed in the DLI Chapel at Durham Cathedral, with the others at the parish churches of St Andrew in Bishop Auckland and St Mary and St Cuthbert in Chester-le-Street.
As part of the Cathedral’s First World War commemorations, and with a particular focus on the centenary of the Somme, this display reunites the three crosses to form a poignant and powerful witness.