Keeping names of thousands of Lancashire war heroes alive

Memorial remembering Lancashire soldiers killed in the First World War being restored

Friday, 9th July 2021, 3:45 pm

This month marked the 105th anniversary of the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

The opening day of the Battle of the Somme in the First World War saw 19,240 British soldiers killed and a further 38,230 injured.

By the end of the offensive in November 1916 the battle had claimed 420,000 British casualties and losses.

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Workmen restoring a section of the Thiepval Memorial commemorating the missing of the South Lancashire Regiment
Photo: CWGC
Workmen restoring a section of the Thiepval Memorial commemorating the missing of the South Lancashire Regiment Photo: CWGC

After the war ended, Thiepval was chosen as the location for a Memorial to the Missing to commemorate those who died in the Somme before March 20, 1918 and with no known grave.

The village had been held by the Germans on the Somme front in 1916 and it was largely destroyed by the bombardment.

The Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing in the world and at the time of its unveiling in 1932 it bore the names of more than 72,337 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector.

Of those 12,413 died with unknown graves on July 1, 1916 alone, the first day of the battle. More than nine in 10 of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.

Building of the Thiepval Memorial Photo: CWGC

Among those remembered on the stone panels are 4,596 men who were serving with Lancashire’s regiments when they were killed on the Somme.

The include 907 men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment; 708 men of the East Lancashire Regiment; 675 men of the King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment; 621 men of the South Lancashire Regiment; and 1,687 Lancashire Fusiliers.

That equates to almost one in eight of all the Loyals killed during the First World War and one in 10 of the East Lancashires .

Among the most notable names on the memorial is Rifleman William Mariner, of Wellington Street, Chorley. He is one of seven men with the Victoria Cross remembered at Thiepval.

Building of the Thiepval Memorial Photo: CWGC

Mariner enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a 17-year-old in 1900 and after serving in India had returned to civilian life as a collier.

When the First World War began he re-enlisted with his old battalion and was posted in France, where in 1915 we was awarded a Victoria Cross in 1915.

Mariner received Britain’s highest award for gallantry after he single-handedly attacked and destroyed a machine gun post on the battlefield of Cambrai.

He lived to receive his medal in person from King George V at Windsor Castle but by 1916 he was back on the frontline. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme he was killed by a shell during a diversionary attack at Loos and his body was not recovered. He was 34.

Workmen building of the Thiepval Memorial Photo: CWGC

Work is currently underway to restore the Thiepval Memorial which was designed by the pre-eminent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and built between 1928 and 1932. It was unveiled by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), in the presence of the President of France, on August 1, 1932.

The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

It has been closed to the public since March 2021 when the restoration began. An intricate shell of scaffold now surrounds the commanding arches allowing workers to inspect and restore the stonework up close.

From platforms they will examine every single one of the 72,000 names, line-by-line, re-engraving by hand and fixing the stonework where needed as they go. Where deterioration is more serious new Portland panels will be installed.

Claire Horton CBE, director general of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), said: “The Battle of the Somme remains one of the most powerful reminders of the cost of war, and 105 years later we continue to remember the fallen. The scars of battle have all but disappeared and the cemeteries and memorials of the CWGC are some of the last reminders in the landscape of what happened.

“For the missing, for men like William, the iconic Thiepval Memorial serves as their legacy, all 72,000 of them. We remain committed to preserving their memory through this iconic piece of architecture.

Construction of the Thiepval Memorial Photo: CWGC

“This is a hugely complex project, requiring incredible attention to detail. Every single name is being checked, one by one, and restored if needed. Behind the scenes, structural improvements are being made to ensure this vital piece of Commonwealth history can survive for future generations.”

Construction of the Thiepval Memorial Photo: CWGC
Rifleman William Mariner VC
Thiepval Memorial