July 1st Ceremonies at the Lochnagar Crater

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A Ceremony has been held at the Lochnagar Crater every year since 1979, organised by Richard Dunning. The first Ceremony was attended by 6 people. It was a very simple affair and, of course the Cross was absent, the first cross being installed in 1986, in time to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Somme Battle. 2010 Ceremony.

Wreath laying at the 1st July 1983 Ceremony, before the original Cross was installed
Wreath laying at the 1st July 1983 Ceremony, before the original Cross was installed
Image source Clive Gilbert © 2011

Over the years the Ceremony has grown and developed, attracting up to an estimated 1,500 people to the tiny French village of La Boisselle. The Ceremony commences at 7-28am. Far too early for any but the most dedicated of pilgrims.

Some of the many hundreds who attended the 2005 Ceremony
Some of the many hundreds who attended the 2005 Ceremony
Image source Clive Gilbert © 2011

Although no two ceremonies are the same, over the years they have developed, and conform to a recognisable format. But ceremonies such as the Lochnagar Crater Ceremony do not 'just happen', and much time and effort is expended in planning and preparation. Many people generously give their time and expertise to ensure that each one is a unique and moving experience.

What's needed? - a few of the 'ingredients' fireworks, pipers, whistles, standard bearers, singers, programme distributors, a sound system, wreath layers, the Chaplain, poppy petals, a coordinator, and of course the site has to be prepared beforehand.

The Pipe Band in position 2007
The Pipe Band in position 2007
Image source Clive Gilbert © 2011

For Richard, preparation for the next Ceremony commences very soon after the end of the current Ceremony! But for most of the 'Friends of Lochnagar', preparation starts in earnest in late May. For a few days around the late May bank holiday, those of the 'Friends' who can make the journey over, spend a few days 'gardening', keeping the foliage down to ensure that the Crater looks at its best for 1st July.

The day before the Ceremony sees much activity in the setting up process:
  • Temporary cordons are erected to ensure that the wreath layers can get to the Cross easily
  • The sound system has to be set up and tested
  • Wreaths have specially printed labels attached
  • Wreaths are carefully numbered in the order to be laid
  • Boxes of poppy petals and petal baskets for the children are prepared
  • Trimming of foliage is ongoing

The Ceremony lasts about an hour, commencing at 07-28am with the firing of a maroon and the blowing of whistles (whistles were blown in the trenches to signal to the men that they must 'go over the top' to face the machine guns). As soon as the maroon is fired, a lone piper, from the far side of the Crater, walks towards the cross playing 'The Battle of the Somme'.

At the end of the Ceremony everyone is invited to scatter some poppy petals into the Crater, and to join hands around the rim to form a complete human circle. To read more about the Ceremony click on the links below.

Preparation for the Ceremony
The Ceremony
Petal Scattering and Hand Linking

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