Salford University is to host a the world premiere of a moving musical tribute to Salford men and boys killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
July 1 2016 marks the commemmoration of 100 years since the first day of battle on the Western Front in northern France.
This was the front line of the fight in First World War.
The soldiers sent over to fight the German threat in France had little clue about what horrors awaited them.
Thousands would bed down in tiny, waterlogged, cramped and muddy trenches while German shells detonated all around them.
Letters sent back from France to their desperate families at home in Salford told of hours of rigid boredom, punctuated by sheer terror, injury and death.
Some 650 Salford soldiers – mainly from the ‘Pals’ regiments of the Lancashire Fusiliers – were mown down on the first day of battle at Thiepval woods.
The ‘Pals’ were the brainchild of Edward Stanley, the 1st Lord of Derby.
In autumn 1915 he was working under the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Kitchener, when he happened upon the idea of regiments of men living and working in the same towns who would sign up together and be able to fight alongside one another.
Neighbours, friends and entire factory floors signed up together.
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The 1st Salford Pals were referred to called ‘God’s Own’ by their sister battalions, the 2nd and 3rd Salford Pals, because so many of them had managed to avoid injury or death in the years since joining up. All this was to change.
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A memorial concert honouring these men on the 100th anniversary of the first day of the battle takes place at Salford University’s Maxwell Hall on Friday 1st July at 7.30pm.
The composition is a tribute to the fallen, regardless of nationality, but focuses on the tragic circumstances surrounding the large number of Salford Pals – young recruits from the city – who were killed on the first day of the battle at Thiepval in the Somme.
In memory of the Salford Pals on July 1, BBC Philharmonic will perform a specially-created work: ‘God’s Own Caught in No Man’s Land’, by the University’s Professor of Music Stephen Davismoon.
Around 650 local men, mostly from the Salford Pals battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers, died on the first day of fighting in 1916.
Many more were killed in the days that followed, and the tragedy had such a profound effect on the Salford community that July 1 was known as ‘Thiepval Day’ in the city for decades afterwards.
‘God’s Own Caught In No Man’s Land’ will be performed by full orchestra, choir, narrator, mezzo-soprano soloist as well as the playing of soundscapes connected to the Salford Pals.
These sounds include the creaking floorboards of Salford Lads’ Club – used as a recruiting station – the peal of bells at Sacred Trinity Church – the parish church of the Pals – natural sounds from The Cliff in Broughton, Conwy Morfa, Catterick, and Whitley Bay – where the young soldiers carried out their training – as well as sounds captured from locations in the Somme connected to the Pals.
The work sets poetry by Salford-born Winifred Letts, describing the brutal hardship and heartache faced by those left at home, which are contrasted with recollections from the front.
The memorial concert will also feature performances by the BBC Philharmonic of three British composers who served on the Somme – Ivor Gurney, Cecil Coles and George Butterworth. Of these, only Gurney was to survive the Great War.
The concert will be attended by members of the Lancashire Fusiliers regiment, including veterans from Broughton House Care Home, which was created as a home for wounded and disabled servicemen in 1916, as well as many other dignitaries.
There will also be a programme of events in and around the University of Salford Peel Campus to mark the centenary.
• At 7am, a peal of bells will ring out from the Sacred Trinity Church followed at 7.30am by a memorial service at the Cenotaph in Fire Station Square opposite the University’s main campus.
• Salford schoolchildren will perform pieces they have composed themselves, inspired by popular tunes of the day, at the University’s Peel Hall from 1pm.
• The Honour Choir will perform a World War One themed programme in the amphitheatre outside the University’s newly-built New Adelphi Building at 3pm and 5pm.
• A beautifully designed book of condolence, designed and produced by University of Salford Visual Arts students, entitled Our Own will be opened in Lower Maxwell Hall before the concert at 6pm.
Professor Davismoon said: “Hundreds of very young lives were needlessly lost in the Battle of the Somme – each one of them leaving behind parents, wives or children, creating shockwaves for decades afterwards – and it’s almost impossible to image the impact that this would have had on the entire Salford community.
“My work is an aural memorial to the fallen of the Somme, in particular the Salford Pals, setting many of their recollections, from enlistment through to full active service, to music; it was an honour to have been asked to write it.
“This is the most important piece of music I’ve ever composed and I only hope I’ve created a fitting tribute to those hundreds of young men.”
The concert is free but guests need to register for tickets here.