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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Thousands come to honour war dead
Poppies at sunrise on the Somme
The Somme battlefields claimed many thousands of lives
Thousands of people are gathering on the battlefields of the Somme as they prepare to honour those who fell there during the First World War.

The Prince of Wales and ministers will be among those joining Saturday's commemorations - exactly 90 years after the Battle of the Somme began.

About 20,000 British and empire troops fell on 1 July 1916 - known as bloodiest day in British Army history.

Some 125,000 were to die during the course of the five-month battle.

With hotels and guest houses across the Somme region filled to capacity, many of those coming to pay their respects have had to book accommodation up to 30 miles away from the battlefields.

Many took the chance on Friday to make personal visits to memorials and war graves ahead of the formal commemorations.

Relative's tribute

Among them was 14-year-old Harry Shuell, a pupil at Bury Grammar School in greater Manchester.

A small boys' school with only 197 pupils on the roll in 1914, Bury Grammar lost 97 former pupils in the First World War, including 20 at the Battle of the Somme.

Harry laid a wreath of poppies in the village of la Boisselle, just metres from the spot where his great-great-uncle, Private Thomas Seville of the 7th Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, was killed in 1916.

Four days into the battle of the Somme, parts of the village remained in German hands, with enemy soldiers holding out in a labyrinth of trenches.

Aged 26, Pte Seville was commanding a bombing party to help liberate the village when he was killed.

Although his body was never recovered, records indicate he died just a short distance from the village church where Harry laid a wreath.

Standing in the centre of the village Harry said: "It feels quite eerie to know that he probably would have walked through here, might have sat there and would have died nearby."

Battlefield pilgrimage

Others paying personal tributes included 36-year-old Neil McGurk, of Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, whose great-uncle Corporal William Clark of the Durham Light Infantry died at the Somme in September 1916.

Mr McGurk decided to carry out research into his relative after volunteering to take part in a five-day march along the front line in authentic 1916 uniform organised by the National Army Museum in London.

Although his relative has no known grave, Mr McGurk's research helped him narrow down where he fell to within a few fields.

"I know that potentially he is in there somewhere," he said.

"I went there on Sunday. Or the fact that there may be a Durham Light Infantry soldier in a grave somewhere known only to God, there is that possibility as well."




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