The people of Belper remembered the Battle of the Somme yesterday with a tribute to ‘The Fourteen’ local men who died on that fateful night.
Last night (Friday June 30th), one hundred years since the eve of the battle, St Peter’s in Belper opened to commemorate the lives lost with music, poetry, art and drama.
One of the most bloody, wasteful losses of life in modern military history, the Battle of the Somme saw 21,000 British soldiers and 8,000 German soldiers killed in one day. By the end of the battle a million men had died.
Around three hundred people attended the evening, with relatives of those who were killed travelling from as far away as New Zealand.
Each of the fourteen Belper soldiers were commemorated with a reading and a performance. The readings gave some background into the soldiers lives prior to the eve of the battle and their fate afterwards.
Appropriately for the period, the variety of performances gave the evening a Music Hall feel. Songs came from Belper Musical Theatre ‘Something Inside (So Strong)’, Captive Audience Community Theatre ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ and Mat Williams and Craig Morris.
The drama pieces shined as short, candid observations of life during the war. Sharp contrasts were made between those at home and those on the front lines in ‘The Letter’, the men and the officers in ‘The Visitor’ and humour in the face of war in ‘The Wipers Times’. General Haig, who arrogantly believed that artillery bombardment would remove the barbed wire and weaken the German forces, was questioned throughout, culminating in Nick Motherhsaw’s and Eddie Bennet’s ‘The Trial’.
A warm, human perspective on the conflict, the commemoration gave breath back to those local lads who passed away at the Somme. Rather than simply being a name on a memorial or a number in a history book, these were young men who lived and worked as brickies, plumbers and miners; they came from Penn Street, Bridge Street, Nottingham Road and Mill Lane, they drank in our pubs and walked along the River Gardens.
Highlight of evening was the remarkable sculpture “Sacrifice” that was constructed especially for the evening by Andy Mayers. Prior to each of the fourteen readings metal ‘lances’ were placed vertically in the centre of the stage. At the end of the performance the 29 pieces, when illuminated, revealed an image of Jim Green, who died on the first day of battle.
The event concluded with a procession, as 14 candles were taken by performers from the church to the temporary memorial in Belper Market Place.
Bringing together a cast of performers that spanned all ages, the poignant event highlighted the lasting impact of the battle on the country. With a worthy message of unity in these turbulent times that ‘regardless of nationality, all men are brothers’.
‘The Fourteen’ was produced by George Gunby with all profits from the evening going to local charities.