THE shrill of whistles echoed through the church and gave an eerie reminder of the terror facing soldiers as they went ‘over the top’.
The police whistles, which were used as a signal into battle for men on the frontline, were one of several poignant moments in a service in Havant to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
It was one of the bloodiest fights of the First World War and lasted five months, with the British suffering almost 60,000 casualties on the first day alone.
More than a million men were killed and wounded on all sides in the battle.
The service at St Faith’s Church heard extracts from the diary of Jimmy Glover, a 20-year-old gunner in the 1916 battle who was the father of the current mayor of Havant, Councillor Faith Ponsonby.
His diary recalled heavy fighting and burying his fellow countrymen.
‘It was an amazing sight and no-one could realise what war was unless they had actually seen it,’ his diary said.
Charlotte Sharpe, a pupil at Riders School, in Leigh Park, read out her poem about the battle.
She said: ‘We heard innocent, last larks echoing screams through blood red skies.
‘We heard gruesome, ghastly gunshots murdering desolate desperate-eyed people whilst bodies drifted on to dirt like fallen bomber planes.’
The Mayor’s Chaplain, Pastor Jimmy Orr, said: ‘Let us never again value young lives so cheaply.
‘Let us learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.’
A moving sermon was given by Reverend Damon Draisey, curate of Warblington with Emsworth.
About the shrill of the whistles, he said: ‘It made me emotional just thinking about it.
‘Can you imagine what those guys were going through as they were standing there waiting for that whistle that was going to do so much damage?’
He added that it was not a time to ‘celebrate’ war, but respect the fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect their loved ones.
Harrowing images of the battle were displayed on a screen during the service.
Wreaths were laid in memory of the fallen by veterans and the mayor.
Meanwhile, an exhibition opened yesterday at Emsworth Museum to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.
The exhibition runs until July 31.