Leeds falls silent to remember sacrifice of city’s soldiers, and one extraordinary hero at the Somme

  • Leeds falls silent to remember the sacrifice of soldiers from the city who were among almost 20,000 British troops killed on this day, 100 years ago.
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They laid down their lives so that we may live ours in freedom, and their sacrifices must never be forgotten.

Those were the thoughts on every mind as bugles sounded across Leeds yesterday to commemorate the exact moment troops went over the trenches at the start of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.

Wendy Waterland, grandaughter of Corporal George Sanders, at Leeds Minster with the plaque bearing his name.
 
Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Wendy Waterland, grandaughter of Corporal George Sanders, at Leeds Minster with the plaque bearing his name. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Poignant tributes were held at a number of city centre locations, including the Victoria Gardens War Memorial, the Civic Hall, the top of Briggate, Leeds Minster, Dortmund Square and City Square.

Ceremonies were also held at Bramley War Memorial, Morley Town Hall and Headingley Cenotaph.

The Battle of the Somme resulted in the worst losses of British Army personnel during the First World War, and was one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

It included soldiers from Leeds serving with many units, and the local volunteer battalion the Leeds Pals was hit especially hard.

Martyn Beecham plays the bugle in City Square, Leeds, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. PIC: Simon Hulme

Martyn Beecham plays the bugle in City Square, Leeds, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. PIC: Simon Hulme

Of the 750 members of The Leeds Pals who fought that day, just 72 were uninjured by nightfall.

At Leeds Minster yesterday, the focus was on Corporal George Sanders, who was awarded the Victoria Cross after huge bravery in France on July 1, 1916.

A commemorative paving stone at the foot of the war memorial was unveiled by George’s granddaughter Wendy Waterland in recognition of his extraordinary courage in driving off an attack in which he was hugely outnumbered, and rescuing prisoners who had fallen into their hands.

After receiving his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace in November 1916 from the King, the then 22 year old even returned to the front and was later held as a prisoner of war in Limburg.

PIC: Simon Hulme

PIC: Simon Hulme

Mrs Waterland said the plaque gesture - and the day’s commemorations - were of “huge importance”.

“Obviously my granddad lived through the war but for those who perished it’s a day that should never be forgotten,” she said.

“I have always been proud of the fact that my granddad was awarded the VC but the true implications behind it I don’t think ever really made much of an impact when I was younger.

“I’m just immensely proud that I’m here to be able to do it, and they’ve laid it here, where I can come and have a look whenever I go past.”

Leading prayers at Leeds Minster yesterday, Canon Sam Corley gave thanks for “the life and example of George” and his colleagues on the front who didn’t make it homes.

“Today is a significant day for the life of the nation, 100 years since the battle of the Somme,” he said.

“Perhaps in these days more then ever, we need to be reminded of the effects of division and posturing within and between nations, and so we gather to remember and to reflect and to consider how we wish to live differently in the light of the events of the past.”

Councillor Jack Dunn, representing Leeds City Council, reflected on his own father’s military service throughout the battle.

“Leeds alone lost 10,000 of its sons, and today across the city we will therefore remember those who fought for their country on this day 100 years ago.” he said,

Among onlookers yesterday was Joyce Sundram, who said: “It was my privilege to come here this morning.

“It was a very poignant ceremony and I thought that it properly honoured all those who fought and gave their lives, and those who survived.

“My father Sidney Hickes served in the First World War. He came back relatively unscathed, but his younger brother Gordon Hickes - who was underage when he went - did not survive.”

Standard bearer Brian Joyce, 73, a member of the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales Regiment of Yorkshire, TA Unit, told the YEP: “It was important for me to be part of this and remember the fallen. We are not going to see anything like it again. They laid down their lives for us so we could be free.”

Parade marshall Barry Medhurst, 72. whose own active service includes time in Northern Ireland, said: “Today holds so much importance. They gave so much for us and they should never, ever be forgotten.”

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