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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
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Moving Light Display To Mark Centenary Of The Somme Battle
A great deal has been said and written about the centenary of the Battle of the Somme during the First World War. More than 19,000 British soldiers lost their lives just on the first day of the bloody battle on 1 July 1916, while more than a million men were killed or wounded on all sides at the Somme.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
Faces of WW1 soldiers light up Lichfield Cathedral

Commemorations took place at the famous Thiepval memorial in France which bears the names of 72,000 British and South African troops whose bodies were never found, with royal guests in attendance including the Prince of Wales and his sons, Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
Images of the battlefield featured in the light show

And, in the UK, there were a number of events and services including a country-wide two minute silence to mark the start of the Battle of the Somme, which lasted a terrible five months. But there will have been few more poignant sights than the light show displayed on Lichfield Cathedral in the historic Staffordshire city. Lichfield Cathedral was besieged three times during the English Civil War, during which it suffered severe damage. But it was to the First World War that it paid a moving tribute on July 1 and 2 to mark the opening weekend of the annual Lichfield Festival which runs from July 1-10.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
One of the many soldiers sent to fight in France

The 20 minute long light projection show on the concept of 'The Somme' was created and presented by Luxmuralis, a team of various national and international artists whose main aim is to take art onto the streets and provide access to visual artwork in public. The collaboration is led by lead artist and artistic director Peter Walker who is also the Artist in Residence at Lichfield Cathedral.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
Plenty of poignant moments during the 20 minute display

Hundreds of people gathered in Cathedral Close, directly in front of Lichfield Cathedral, to await the first of three light shows starting at 10pm. It began with the date 1916 spread across the front of the imposing Gothic building, completely rebuilt by 1340 from an earlier Norman cathedral. Visitors were then able to read the famous verse from Robert Laurence Binyon's 1914 poem, For The Fallen, which reads:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them".

Lichfield Festival Light Show
As the poem says, "we will remember them"

The impressive light show combined period film footage with the latest digital techniques. Poignant photos of First World War soldiers were displayed, both in groups and individually, across the face of the three-spired cathedral to emphasise the human cost of the conflict that cost so many lives. The stunning artwork display, called Second Day to commemorate the centenary of day two of the Battle of the Somme on 2 July 1916, then continued with other images, including a map of the battlefield in northern France.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
Anothing image of a First World War soldier

But it was the moving sight of poppies falling from the sky, of barbed wire trenches laid across the battlefield, of tanks and machine gun posts, that really moved the audience who were silent to a man, woman and child as they watched the huge improvised screen. But one of the most moving sights was saved for the end when rows upon rows of headstones gently descended from the spires at the top of the cathedral down to the ground below. It was a fitting end to a fitting tribute to the fallen and one that the organisers should be rightly proud of.

Lichfield Festival Light Show
Rows of headstones provided a fitting climax to The Somme
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Why? A Moving Tribute To Those Who Died At The Battle Of The Somme
When: 1-10 July 2016
Phone: 01543 306270
Where: Lichfield Cathedral, 19a The Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 7LD
Cost: Light show was free, but check prices of other festival events
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