FRICOURT, France – A hundred years ago, 1 July 1916 marked the start of one of the deadliest battles of the First World War – the Battle of the Somme. It was part of a British-French offensive against the German positions and left more than one million dead, wounded or missing German, French and British soldiers by the time it was abandoned in mid-November 1916.
To commemorate the fallen soldiers on all three sides, at the invitation of the German War Graves Commission, the municipality of Fricourt and the Service pour l’Entretien des Sépultures Militaires Allemandes (SESMA), an international commemoration was held at the German war cemetery in Fricourt. The guests included former German President Horst Köhler and Jean-Marc Todeschini, Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance at the French Ministry of Defense.
In her welcome address, Myriam Demailly, Mayor of Fricourt, stressed the significance of commemorations: “Commemorations are important to remember the soldiers who died, but also to understand that no-one must ever start a war.” Her village, Fricourt, suffered greatly at the time and would never forget its lost children, whose names are now carved in stone. Demailly continued her appeal, saying “It is our moral duty to remember them. Therefore, every 1 July, in memory of those first days of this battle, we will commemorate all the lost soldiers who fought here 100 years ago. The act of honouring these soldiers is now a symbol of peace.”
The youth teams of Hertha BSC Berlin, Liverpool FC and a school choir from Southport, Australia then read out letters from soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme.
In his commemorative speech, Markus Meckel, President of the War Graves Commission, underlined the importance of this battle: “One of the primary historical factors was the development of the conflict into a material war based on industrial resources. The Battle of the Somme represents the climax of this – alongside the Battle of Verdun, which followed its fateful progress in parallel. […] In short, it started as a kind of factory of violence, as efficient as possible and powered by the whole of society. It heralded in an era of excessive violence and totalitarian dictators lasting well into the post-war period.” According to Meckel, the German war cemetery at Fricourt was now a symbol of early German-French cooperation, because from 1920, the French authorities took care to ensure a dignified burial of the German soldiers who fell in France.
Regarding today’s remembrance, the Commission President stressed that, “The people who died in the war act as places of remembrance in human form, as it were. Their legacy can only provide answers if people today retain a lively interest and ask relevant questions. Otherwise they remain silent – or always tell us the same familiar story of the terrible futility of war.” Meckel also emphasised the need to engage with the historical and individual contexts and allow history to speak, which is what the Commission promotes with its youth and educational work.
At the end of the commemoration, the participants laid wreaths and placed commemorative crosses in memory of the fallen soldiers of the battle.