Swansea Family History
Swansea Family History 



Westminster Abbey Vigil

I received an email from Mr Meilyr James, proprietor of The Herbal Clinic, King Edward Road, regards to my overnight stay at Westminster Abbey of the night of June 30th – July 1st. It wasn’t a ticket event, as all were welcome during the night

Last November the Commonwealth War Grave Commission opened a ballot box for those who wanted to apply for tickets to attend the Somme centenary ‘celebrations’ at Theipval Memorial, northern France. I applied, but was not successful, as you can imagine there were thousands of applications.

Nearer the time of the July 1st, I had a look at what other ‘celebrations’ were being carried out in the UK, locally to me in Surrey or Swansea. It was then that I noticed that Westminster Abbey was having an all-night vigil. I made a phone call to the Chapter Office, to see what the score was and if anyone could attend. I was told that there was a televised service which the queen was attending during the early evening of June 30th, but otherwise I was more than welcome to attend the all-nighter.

This was the second time in the long history of Westminster Abbey of having an all-night vigil. The first time was some 50 years back during the Cuban Missile Crisis

I travelled up to Westminster Abbey and arrived there on the stroke of 23.00 o’clock, shown to the Nave, where the Unknown Warrior is buried. During the course of the night there was a change of watch around the grave. Each watch lasted 15 minutes, with the last watch at 07.15. During the night there was a handful of people sat in silent mediation. By morning the Nave started to fill up. The short service in the morning was being covered by the BBC. 07.25, there was a bombardment fired off in Parliament Square, lasting for a 100 seconds. 07.27, the actor, Luke Thompson, read an Account of the Battle from an officer whom was present at the time. Then finally 07.30, a 1915 issued trench whistle was blown thus marking the ‘zero-hour’ the moment the Battle started in 1916. The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, conducted a very short service

The vigil was held to remember those who lost their lives during the battle, amounting to over a million lives.

During the morning of the July 1st at various train stations around the country including Swansea and Waterloo where I was travelling back to Surrey there were groups of actors placed in silent tableaux depicting soldiers of July 1st. They did break into a rendition of ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ a popular song sung in the trenches. I understand that in Swansea, a group of ‘soldiers’ stood at and along the Dyfatty Bridge. This must have been a impressive sight to behold. A fitting conclusion to this historical day.

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© Charles Wilson-Watkins