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Whistleblowers remember Somme Nostalgia Whistleblowers remember Somme; Shrill blast of Midlands-made WW1 whistles to mark 100th anniversary.

Byline: JUSTINE HALIFAX Staff Reporter @birminghammail

AGIANT three-foot-long Birmingham-made whistle modelled on those that sent troops "over the top" of their trenches and into No Man's Land in World War One is to take centre stage in a unique event in the heart of the Midlands.

Aimed at commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, around 200 local schoolchildren are set to gather at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, near Lichfield, to take part in a mass whistle blowing event.

The collective shrill of the whistles will ring out over the national centre for remembrance at 7.30am on Friday, July 1 - the exact time tens of thousands of soldiers were sent over the top, sealing their fate in what was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

A century on, it's a little known fact that the WW1 whistles that officers and soldiers used were designed and made in Birmingham's globally renowned Jewellery Quarter by the city's famous toolmaker Joseph Hudson, and the founder of what is now Acme Whistles.

And the giant whistle that will the centrepiece of the commemorations at the arboretum has also been created by Acme.

Acme's director, Simon Topman, said: "The infantry whistle that was used to send men 'over the top' was made at our Barr Street, Hockley, address which we still occupy today."

Tens of thousands of soldiers who had joined forces to create Pals divisions from towns and cities across Britain and Ireland, including in Birmingham, Staffordshire and the Black Country, had gathered along the Western Front in northern France waiting for the Battle of the Somme to get underway.

After the whistles blew along the trenchline they rose out of their trenches, and walked slowly towards the German front-line entrenched along a 15-mile stretch of northern France.

Many were slaughtered within just a few feet - some were even gunned down as they attempted to climb out of the trenches.

By the end of the day, 20,000 British and Irish soldiers, both men and boys, lay dead in the mud on the bloody battlefields, while a further 40,000 had been maimed and injured - a total of over 60,000 casualties in just one day, the worst in the Army's history.

For most it had been their first taste of war, as many were part of "Kitchener's Volunteer Army" who were persuaded to sign up for service after seeing posters showing Lord Kitchener himself summoning men to arms to show their patriotism.

The Battle did not break the long stalemate along the Western Front, as had been the hope of then Army commander-in-chief Sir Douglas, "The Butcher", Haig, and instead raged on until November 1916.

By the end of the battle, the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties, the French had lost 200,000 men, and the Germans nearly 500,000 - that is over one million men killed, or injured.

A huge, thought provoking memorial now stands at Thiepval in France in honour to the Missing of the Somme - including thousands of West Midlands men such as those who served with the Royal Warwickshires - where commemorations will also take place on July 1. The large-scale whistle blowing event at the arboretum is part of a five-month programme of Battle of the Somme commemorations.

Arboretum director Sarah Montgomery said: "Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Battle of the Somme, and as the centenary of this conflict approaches, we will pay tribute to them through a variety of events and activities.

"We plan to engage people of all ages in our fivemonth commemorative programme and this whistle blowing event on July 1 will be the first in our series of interactive and educational events which are aimed specifically at children and young people."

Other events include guided walks around the memorials of WW1 at the site, which includes the striking Armed Forces' Memorial.

|For more details on Somme commemorative events at the arboretum visit
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 27, 2016
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