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Author Michael Morpurgo reflects on Battle of the Somme 100 years on

Acclaimed author and playwright Michael Morpurgo, who wrote Private Peaceful, the story of a young soldier's life on the frontline in WWI, and War Horse, travelled to the Somme with ITV News.

He has written this piece of prose exclusively for ITV News to mark 100 years to the day since the Battle of the Somme.

Here in these peaceful fields on the 1st July a hundred years ago, men died in their thousands, most of them young, some barely out of school. 20,000 in one day. Historians have argued long about this battle of the Somme. Such arguments will rage on. Those that lie here cannot have their say. They are gone. The 40,000 wounded that day are gone now too.

The bugles and memorials and the poppies all exhort us to remember them. Well we can't, because we do not know them. They are names are on war memorials. They are remote figures in sepia photographs, in stuttering black and while film from a distant time, figures marching cheerily down dusty roads, lying wounded, or dead in the mud. They are all unknown soldiers to us now.

Yet I stand here, a free man, able to speak my mind freely,because of what they did in this place. They left their homes and families, put life on hold, and became soldiers because their country called them. They travelled over the seas to a foreign land, screwed their courage to the sticking place. And endured.

On that summer morning of July in 1916 the whistles blew, and these beloved sons, climbed out of their trenches into no man's land, and walked forward into a hail of machine gun fire. Such courage is unimaginable.

Yet imagine it we must, for this is the only way they can be remembered. As the song goes, we are in the end 'only remembered for what we have done,' not for who we are. The names, the faces fade, what they did does not, not if we keep their story alive.

This we can do by knowing their history, by knowing the stories of these men. Who will sing the anthem? Who will tell the story? Well, we will, we must, because we owe it to them, because it is only through their stories that we can understand the pity and horror of war, the suffering and the grieving, as well as the courage.

I have often wondered in the imagining and writing of my stories whether I could have endured, done what these men did. Would I walk on into the bullets with death and dying all around me? Yes, for the comrade to the right of me and the left of me, I hope I would. And maybe also I would walk on, if I could believe deep in my heart that the world was worth fighting for, if it could be a world of peace, where people could live out their lives in freedom, peace, and harmony.

I have had that peace in my lifetime, the first such prolonged period of peace in Europe in centuries. These unknown soldiers did that for us, these plough boys, these factory workers, these poets and miners,these fathers, these sons and these wives and daughters too. We remember what they did for us. We sing the anthem. We tell the story. We pass it on.

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