Summer before the Somme - school event marks week of commemoration

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A week of commemoration of the Battle of the Somme began at a Sheffield school with an Edwardian Summer Fair.

The event at Wales High School raised funds for the local branch of the Royal British Legion and for Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.

Work related to the Somme and World War One stretched over the year for pupils at Wales High.

The battle of the Somme began on July 1 1916. Men who enlisted from the locality would have joined the Sheffield City Battalion. They were known as the Sheffield Pals, and formed part of the Yorks and Lancashire Regiment.

The Pals’ first major engagement was the Battle of the Somme, where they fought to capture the heavily fortified village of Serre.

On July 1, the most catastrophic day in Britain’s fighting history, over half of the battalion, 513 officers and other ranks, were killed, seriously wounded or listed as missing, with 75 more soldiers wounded.

One soldier was quoted later as saying the Pals were ‘two years in the making, ten minutes in the destroying’.

The school’s significant weekend event took its inspiration from the ‘golden summer’ prior to WWI, and was based on an Edwardian theme.

It included a carousel, swing boats, a big wheel, and stalls such as coconut shies.

There was a beer tent, a farmers’ market, and afternoon tea provided by the local branch of the Women’s Institute. Sporting activities included three-legged races and sack races. In a ‘local derby’ students took on the roles of FA Cup winners (1915) Sheffield United and The Wednesday (as they were called in 1915).

There was also a competition for a Tug of War champions trophy.

Music added to the festivity and Morris men performed traditional dance. Local churches, parish councils and Bluebell Wood Hospice were all represented.

Event co-ordinator Judith Cole said: “It was very important that this should be a community event and we were delighted. People responded magnificently.”

Year nine students have visited World War I sites in Belgium and France. At school, students worked with history society members on a big display. It included copies of a recreation of a 1914 photograph, of local men who signed up, and the re-dedication of a war memorial on the old Kiveton Colliery office wall last year.

A service of commemoration to mark the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme was held in the school grounds, conducted by two local ministers and a padre from the Royal Artillery barracks in Thirsk.

Ms Cole added: “We heard the story of the first morning from first hand accounts and letters, to show how a community is affected by war. As 588 ‘Pals’ were killed or wounded we put that number of poppies on chairs so that those with poppies could stand up to show the number of men involved.” A memorial was unveiled in school, dedicated to those who die in conflict.

An alumni wall begun in school features former student Ian Collins, a sapper in the Royal Engineers’ regiment, who lost his life in August 2001 in Macedonia.