Commemorations take place for one of the defining events of the first world war

3.09pm BST

3.08pm BST

Manchester fell silent to mark a century since the start of the Battle of the Somme, the Press Association reports. Among the 60,000 casualties suffered on July 1 were friends, neighbours and workmates in towns and cities across Britain - particularly the North - who volunteered for the Pals battalions.

Thousands of men responded to the call of the iconic Lord Kitchener Wants You poster at a time before conscription was introduced. Many of the Pals were involved in their first major action on that fateful first day of the First World War battle.

We remember those whose names are inscribed on the hearts of those whom they left behind as they departed for the battlefield. Names inscribed on memorials in this and many lands, names for whom there is no memorial, names of those known only to yourself, O Lord God.

We represent today the many peoples and creeds that were ensnared in this deadliest of conflicts that took more than a million lives from 50 nations.

3.03pm BST

An Irish government minister joined the Lord Mayor of Belfast at City Hall to lay wreaths at the war memorial.

In the new spirit of cross-border co-operation and Anglo-Irish relations, Dublin Cabinet Minister Leo Vradkar laid a wreath at the memorial in Belfast city centre.

2.57pm BST

A centenary event is now being held at Manchester Cathedral. You can watch a live broadcast on BBC News.

2.55pm BST

The national archives, the official archive of the UK government, has today announced that its unit war diaries for the Western Front (WO 95) have now been digitised. For the first time you can research every diary, including all that relate to the Somme, and download online.

2.47pm BST

Men dressed as soldiers appeared in cities, towns and villages in a poignant memorial to those killed in the first world war battle, Charlotte Higgins reports.

Waterloo station, London: 8am. “I’m here, under the big clock,” said a man into his phone. So were about 20 young men, immediately conspicuous because they were dressed in the various dull-green uniforms of the first world war: boots and puttees; highland dress; flared breeches. They were just there: not speaking, not even moving very much. Waiting, expressionless, for who knows what. A small crowd started to gather, taking photographs. A woman caught the eye of one of the men in uniform. She tried to speak to him. He looked into her eyes and, without speaking, pulled a small card out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Lance Corporal John Arthur Green,” it read. “1st/9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles). Died at the Somme on 1 July 1916. Aged 24 years.”

Related: #Wearehere: Battle of the Somme tribute acted out across Britain

2.41pm BST

Tending to the wounded, Ruby Chapman (née Cockburn) worked as a British Red Cross service nurse on the No 16 ambulance train which collected men from the frontline.

The train was fitted with wards, kitchens, a dispensary, office, storerooms and accommodation. Ruby worked on the train for six months travelling to and from the casualty clearing stations near the front. Her pay throughout the war was £1 1s 0d a week, which is roughly £370 in today’s money.

2.39pm BST

Prince William also gave an address written by Birdsong novelist Sebastian Faulks for the occasion. Below is a segment:

2.34pm BST

At Thiepval earlier, one of the pieces of music, called The Lads in Their Hundreds by A.E. Housman, was performed by Samuel Boden. The piece was composed by Lieutenant George Butterworth and goes:

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

2.24pm BST

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, has revealed that her husband’s great-uncle was wounded at the Somme but survived the battle. Foster, who is in northern France today for the official commemoration on the battlefield, told the Belfast Telegraph this morning that Sgt Robert Devers was sent back home to Ulster after being wounded. However, Foster said he insisted on returning to fight in France and was killed in action on 29 January 1918.

Foster said: “While I will be at the Somme today, representing the people of Northern Ireland, I will also be there to remember a family member and an individual, who – like so many others – went over the top on that fateful day a century ago.

2.23pm BST

Meanwhile back in Belfast the residents in and around Tower Street have transformed the area into a battlefield scenario.

2.14pm BST

Here is how the Guardian and Observer originally reported the Battle of the Somme a century ago.

1.39pm BST

Shane Hughes, a reader, has written in with a remarkable family coincidence involving the Battle of the Somme. Hughes said he discovered that his mother’s uncle, Lt John S Dagg, and his father’s uncle, Pt James Douglas Hughes, both fought in the 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Whilst we’ve no idea whether they knew each other or not, they were both killed on the same day, in the same battle on 15 September 1916 at Longueval.

Both soldiers’ names are inscribed in the wall at the Caterpillar Valley cemetery as having graves ‘known only unto God’. Yet John Dagg’s headstone is one of the 300 allied soldiers buried at Thiepval. We can only assume his body was found some years later but how he managed to be selected for burial at the Thiepval memorial is a mystery.

1.21pm BST

There is a pacifist view of the importance of the Battle of the Somme. It started just four months after conscription was introduced in the UK for most single men between 18 and 40.

Conscripts did not fight at the battle, they were still being trained, but Symon Hill, coordinator of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said: “The generals knew that the conscripts would soon be arriving at the front and thus they could ‘afford’ the deaths of British soldiers as they would soon be replaced.”

12.54pm BST

Year 10 pupils from Bangor grammar school in Northern Ireland were ready to lay wreaths at the Somme today. The school is twinned with the Lycée Thuillier in Amiens, and the Bangor students joined their French counterparts on the old battlefield.

The County Down school has a strong connection with the first world war, as 37 of its former students were killed in the conflict. The students are in northern France today with the support of the British Council.

12.44pm BST

Surgeon-Major George Hayes survived the horrors of the Somme but never recovered from what he had seen on the western front, according to his granddaughter Marianne Palmer-Smith.

Hayes was an Anglo-Indian and a professional soldier-surgeon. Though his own diaries of the war years were lost in a family move, Palmer-Smith has her grandmother’s diaries of the time, addressed to her father, then a small boy, with the words: “I’m going to put the details down for you, my darling John. I want you to know in your afterlife that your father was one of the trench heroes in this awful war.”

12.37pm BST

Nine VCs were awarded for heroism among British armed forces on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They included four Ulstermen.

Over 5,500 men of the the 37th Ulster Division that day were killed or wounded. The division was a rare part of the British army to reach its objectives early on. By 8am, its troops had reached part of the battlefield called the Schwaben redoubt and taken over 400 German prisoners. But forces elsewhere faltered, leaving the division cut off and exposed to ferocious German counter-attacks which forced its troops to abandon the position and retreat.

12.28pm BST

The service at Thiepval has been incredibly moving for a lot of viewers, who have expressed their mood on Twitter.

Abide with me...beautiful rendition at The Centenary Of the Battle of the Somme #Thiepval @BBCOne pic.twitter.com/EPwhdpUSYO

The live BBC news coverage from Thiepval has broken me.

Absolutely incredible service at the Thiepval memorial. Stirring stuff #Somme100

12.24pm BST

12.24pm BST

The Press Association reports:

The Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers will attend the Ulster Tower ceremony this afternoon with the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, will represent the Stormont executive. The Irish government will be represented by Heather Humphreys, minister for regional development, rural affairs, arts & the Gaeltacht.

12.17pm BST

French & British school children marking each of the graves at Thiepval #Somme100 #lestweforget pic.twitter.com/sRUBVkJw2d

12.16pm BST

In Scotland, a whistle carried by an officer at the Battle of the Somme was blown by his descendant to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who fought in the Somme. It brought to an end an overnight vigil at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle.

Thousands of Scots from 51 battalions gave their lives and representatives of regimental associations from across the country gathered at the memorial to respect a two-minute silence at 7.30am - the moment when soldiers were led into battle a century ago.

My great-uncle Robert Hamilton was an artillery officer at the battle. He was attached to a Scottish unit as an observation officer and he blew this whistle on 1 July at 7.30am 100 years ago to take his men over the top into action.

He went forward with the regiment and, because of the high rate of casualties among the officers, he ended up commanding the regiment until he was wounded and evacuated.

Barely a single community in Scotland was left untouched by the battle. Across Scotland communities are now remembering those who gave their lives, and a whole century on from the devastation and suffering of the Battle of the Somme, we should all reflect on the horrors of the Great War and give thanks that our continent now lives in peace.

12.08pm BST

François Hollande, David Cameron and Prince Charles have all given a reading now.

12.04pm BST

Charles Dance is now reading the poem Aftermath by Siegfried Sassoon. It goes...

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War’s a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

11.50am BST

A newly discovered minute-by-minute eyewitness account of the first day of the battle of the Somme described how British infantrymen were quickly cut down by enemy shells and machine gun fire amid utter confusion while smoke and gas enveloped the ground between the opposing trenches.

The diary of Major Francis Meynell of the disastrous day in which 19,240 British soldiers were killed and more than 38,000 wounded – the bloodiest day in the history of the British army – was uncovered in Staffordshire’s county archives. Meynell, from Burton-upon-Trent, was stationed at the northern end of the battlefield where the 137th Staffordshire Brigade attacked the German-held village of Gommecourt.

6.53am: B.232 (O.P.[observation post] reported “Observation poor. Enemy shelling frontline with whizzbangs and crumps. Two 5.9. shells just fallen in front of battery.”

7.15am: C.232 [an observation post] could not tell me the direction enemy fire was coming from.

7.33am: We tried to get in touch with Right F.O.O. [forward observation officer] and Battalion Liaison Officer, but were unable to get any reply.

7.45am: A.232 (O.P.) reported that enfilade gun in ORCHARD (HANNESCAMP road) was being whizzbanged.

7.46am: Two infantry officers who came into HQ reported that there appeared to be more heavy enemy guns in action than on any previous occasion

7.52am: Out of communication with R battalion on artillery wire.

7.56am: Out of communication with L battalion on artillery wire.

8.08am: The orchard was reported as being shelled by 4.2 and 5.9.

8.11am: The 139th Bde Major reported that most of the infantry casualties were being caused by a machine gun on their right.

8.55am: Lt. Villa of 5th batt. Came in to HQ and reported that he had got into enemy first line which he found to be very strongly held. He was wounded in arm and in a bad way. He told us that the enemy came out of their dug outs after the first waves had passed over.

9.35am: Col. Goodman reported, “Things have gone badly. Scott (M.O.? [medical officer]) says first two waves started, but 3 and 4 were cut down before they got to first line as smoke apparently thinned.”

10.36am: The information at this time 3 hours and 6 minutes after 0.0. [ie zero hour] seemed very conflicting and no conclusion as to what had actually happened could be come to.

1.12pm: C.232 (O.P.) reported “Fancy infantry seen moving between little Z towards big Z. Cannot say for certain whether hostile or friendly. Could we say for certain.” We reported had no knowledge.

1.15pm: C.232 (O.P.) reported they thought above were English.

4.34pm: First absolute silence of 20 secs since 6.05am

5.15pm: Bdr. Hale and Gr. Richards, A.323 battery, two of Lt. Clarke’s party came to report themselves to me. Their account was as follows: - Just before the attack started they were both put out of action by gas shells....They discovered the wire smashed to atoms for some distance. The reels of wire having been taken over by Lt. Clarke they returned to the battery, procured some more and went down again to the sap head to relay the missing part. Meeting with much difficulty in carrying out the work because of snipers and realizing the impossibility of getting across they decided to return and report to their battery commander who sent them to me. These men appear to have behaved extremely well under great difficulties. This is the second time that Gr. Richards has proved his excellence and courage as a wire-man.

9.52pm: C.232 (O.P.) reported, “Bombing seen and heard in German second line also flashes and smoke.” Further orders for the artillery in connection with the proposed attack in the evening...The proposed attack was not successful.

11.36am BST

This was the reading by Sol Campbell.

Reading by Sol Campbell about former Clapton Orient (now Leyton O) player Willie Jonas #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/yCr8rexA5y

11.33am BST

As letters are being read out at Thiepval (currently actor Jason Isaacs is narrating the proceedings), readers are sending in their own stories.

We are training for ‘The Day’. We are only here for a day or two and then back. I can’t say when it’ll come off but when it does I think that we all shall be ready. Honestly, kid, I am going to try and do something. Nothing rash of course but I’m going to have a good try for honours. There are three of us here pals together, Clem Nixon, a chap we call ‘Ginger’ (H Rogers) & myself. The aforesaid Ginger is in for a Military Medal for attending the wounded under shell fire … This is the last letter I can write for a bit for post is stopped from here after tonight.

Best Love Harry.

11.29am BST

A century after the Somme, another war now seems less unimaginable, writes Simon Tisdall.

Opinions vary about the origins of the first world war, but there is no doubt that the rise of aggressively chauvinistic nationalism in Britain and across Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, dressed up as respectable flag-waving patriotism, was a key factor.

As Britain and its erstwhile allies and foes commemorate an awful byproduct of that phenomenon on Friday – the 1916 battle of the Somme – the spectre of unthinking, potentially violent nationalism and its ugly sister, hatred of foreigners, is once again stalking Europe.

Related: A century after the Somme, another war now seems less unimaginable

11.22am BST

Here is a picture of Cameron, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Tte Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Hollande arriving.

Hollande-Cameron-PrinceCharles-PrinceWilliam-Kate-Camilla-PrinceHarry... BreKing news ;-) #Thiepval cc @BFMTV pic.twitter.com/TUXhPEfOI3

The new Europe. Francois Hollande not seeing eye-to-eye with David Cameron. Or the royals. #Thiepval #Somme pic.twitter.com/0tHBGlXAfs

11.20am BST

Celebrities including Charles Dance and Sol Campbell are narrating the event. Letters and stories are being read out to the crowd.

I’ll be reading a heart-breaking letter shortly, written by a footballer in the trenches, from The Thiepval Memorial @BBCOne #Somme100

11.10am BST

The Guard of Honour arrives at the #Somme100 commemorations at the Thiepval Memorial in France, ahead of VVIPS. pic.twitter.com/34w8108rHS

11.09am BST

Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, is at Thiepval.

Je suis présente au mémorial de #Thiepval pour la commémoration de la Bataille de la Somme. #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/wlnKA47yNP

10.53am BST

Michael D Higgins, the Irish president has arrived.

10.50am BST

David Cameron has also arrived. This will be one of the last commemorative events he attends as prime minister. No doubt Cameron and Hollande have plenty to talk about …

Angela Merkel is not expected today, but a former president of Germany will attend.

10.47am BST

François Hollande has arrived at Thiepval and is meeting part of the British delegation and French armed forces. Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also arrived. The heads of state will gather and wait until all the principal guests arrive. The national anthems will be played before the heads of state take their place in the crowds, which have been waiting for up to three hours at this point.

10.43am BST

At Thiepval, the band of the Welsh Guards have just finished performing and given way to the French military band. You can watch the proceedings live on BBC 1.

Arrivée dans la Somme pour la commémoration de la Bataille. Très impressionnant. @Mission1418 @IWM_Centenary pic.twitter.com/0PPs9cp4wt

10.40am BST

Students have made a life-size paper recreation of the Battle of the Somme.

In 2014, dozens of students on Birmingham City University’s theatre, performance and event design course worked tirelessly to craft the installation out of paper and cardboard. The items were originally on show to mark the start of first world war, but today the images and time-lapse video of the exhibition are being revisited by students and graduates paying their respects on the Battle’s centenary.

10.36am BST

It’s worth noting that when François Hollande attends the centenary today he will be the first French head of state at a Somme commemoration in more than 80 years.

As the BBC reports, Charles De Gaulle did not attend the 50th anniversary in 1966 and his successors have not been at any subsequent event. The last time a French head of state went to a Somme commemoration was in 1932 when Albert Lebrun helped inaugurate the Thiepval memorial alongside the future King Edward VIII.

10.30am BST

French & British flags on Lutyens's vast memorial to 72,000 UK & S African men whose bodies never found #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/wVXMAO2NpP

This is the famous mud of the Somme valley. 10.000 visitors have been given rain ponchos #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/B6Fe9fmMFO

Diane Freeman @ #somme100 for gt uncle Walter Clapperton, close to tears. His name is on memorial to 72,000 missing pic.twitter.com/W43IJXY5uC

Kelly McKenna, 27, from Luton. At #Somme100 remembering gt-gt uncle who died during Great War, his body never found pic.twitter.com/277rJ4i5i4

10.25am BST

Readers have sent in some moving stories of soldiers who died 100 years ago today. One wais Pte Charles John Harvey. His great-niece Elizabeth Dean said he was only 19 when he died.

Dear Mother and Dad,

I now take the pleasure of writing to you hoping the letter will find you in the best of health as it leaves me at the time of writing. Also to let you know that I have just got your letter with the birthday cards and I thank you very much for them – they both have very good tokens on them and are very pretty. I will look after them and each time I look at them will remind me of the first birthday I have ever had away from my home. But I am living in great hope that by next June 1917 I will be with you all at home and enjoying myself.

10.21am BST

My colleague Esther Addley, who is at Thiepval for today’s commemorations, also reports that Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has arrived, as have Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the writer Sebastian Faulks.

Jeremy Corbyn has arrived at Thiepval monument for #Somme100. Can also see Nicola Sturgeon, Sebastian Faulks, Seumas Milne on his mobile

10.19am BST

Crowds started arriving at the vast Thiepval monument to the Somme’s missing early in the day. About 10,000 people have secured tickets, and many carried artefacts or told stories of granddads, great-granddads, great-uncles and family friends who had fought and, in many cases, died.

Steve Richards, from Brighton, brought a photograph of his great-grandfather Arthur Sillence, of the 11th Battalion the Suffolk Regiment, and also a worn postcard, addressed in pencil to his great-grandmother in Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire.

This card posted home by Steve Richards' gt granddad Arthur Silence on 1Jul. He died the same day, body never found pic.twitter.com/yOZcr7KVjn

Rear of card sent by Arthur Sillence 1July 'I am quite well'. Died same day La Boisselle, body never found #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/bEY1gvdhVQ

10.15am BST

The CWGC’s casualty database does not list the age of everyone killed on 1 July 1916. Ages were not always provided by the military authorities or next of kin but those that were convey overwhelmingly the youth of most who fell.

10.13am BST

My colleagues on the Guardian visuals team have produced charts using records held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The CWGC’s casualty database lists 17,310 British soldiers who died on 1 July 1916 and are buried or commemorated in France’s Somme department. More soldiers who died that day are buried or commemorated in other countries and French departments – the long-accepted historical figure for British deaths on the first day of the Somme is 19,240.

CWGC data confirms it was the lower orders who bore the brunt of the carnage on the first day. This was an inexperienced army with large numbers of volunteers – many of those who died had signed up earlier in the war and were at the front for the first time after completing their training.

10.06am BST

A programme of film, music and poetry will be used to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval today. Performers from across the UK, including 600 British, Irish and French school children will take part in the event.

9.49am BST

Sidney Dixon was a 19-year-old draughtsman from Grimsby when he signed up in 1914, part of the first wave of Kitchener’s volunteers. Two years later, he and his fellow members of the 10th battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment – the “Grimsby Chums” – found themselves on the Somme, readying for an attack at the village of La Boisselle.

At 7.28am, two minutes before the scheduled advance, the enormous Lochnagar mine was detonated, supposedly to eliminate the German positions. So vast was that explosion that the hole it blew out in the Feench soil remains to this day, still 91 metres wide and 21 metres deep.

9.40am BST

This timeline of the Battle of the Somme by the Imperial War Museum is handy.

9.30am BST

Social media users are tweeting pictures of actors dressed as soldiers handing out cards for the dead men they represent in stations around the country. They are using the hashtag #wearehere.

Moving scenes at Birmingham New Street & Moor Street this morning #wearehere #Somme100 #ww1 pic.twitter.com/dzSzXneoRF

Very moving RT @rosieladkin: Amazing scenes at Bristol Temple Meads this morning. Incredibly moving. #wearehere pic.twitter.com/p8oAenOFbF

Waterloo station 08.30am #wearehere pic.twitter.com/nYsC6zQLec

Extremely moving tribute at @NetworkRailMAN this morning... #Somme100 #wearehere @BBCR1 pic.twitter.com/EsiKAOIpck

9.20am BST

The Sport Remembers the Somme 1916-2016 campaign is fronted by a number of sporting legends. Here are some statements of support from them:

Sir Nick Faldo MBE, former world golf No 1 and six-time major championship winner, said: “The Royal British Sport Remembers effort recognises the athletes who made historic contributions to our nation through service or sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme and during the first world war. It is an honour to represent our sport in salute of the golfers and associated professionals who will forever be remembered for their contribution to our national history through ultimate service to our country.”

9.17am BST

The Royal British Legion has called on Britain’s sporting organisations, associations, clubs, teams and individuals to commemorate the role played by sportsmen at the Battle of the Somme. The campaign, called Sport Remembers the Somme 1916-2016, is being launched off the back of 100 Sportsmen of the Somme stories, which have been produced and released for free online by the charity in an effort to inspire the nation’s professional and amateur sporting organisations and individuals to unite in remembrance. In a press release, the charity said:

The Battle of the Somme, which ran from 1 July – 18 November 1916, was one of the most difficult and costly battles of the first world war. To aid the war effort, virtually all professional sport had been suspended for the duration by the time the Battle of the Somme began. Athletes and players from sports at all levels had volunteered to enlist – sometimes en masse as an entire team and its supporters. There were battalions that included significant numbers of athletes, footballers, and individual members of clubs and teams. Many other players – from first class cricketers to amateur boxers – served in Pals Battalions recruited from towns, villages, schools, workplaces and trades. When these battalions suffered losses, as they did mostly at the Somme, the impact was felt at the club and community level.

9.02am BST

My colleagues on visuals have made this map detailing where and when the offences took place.

8.56am BST

Vigils commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/zfjnkWvFY0

8.53am BST

Here is another picture from Waterloo station this morning, taken by the Guardian’s Maev Kennedy.

8.51am BST

My colleague Henry McDonald, in Belfast, has written about his great grandfather, William Stewart, who fought in and survived the battle, but not the war.

Exactly 100 years ago today the 36th Ulster Division sustained 5,500 casualties of which 2,000 died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. My great-grandfather was among those who survived that first wave of slaughter as soldiers drawn from Lord Carson’s army primarily to resist home rule – the original Ulster Volunteer Force – went over the top.

William Stewart from the Belfast loyalist redoubt of the Shankill Road was 33 years old when he and his comrades charged forward to the German lines on 1 July 1916.

8.46am BST

#Somme100 living art memorial at Waterloo station this morning. Really eery and very poignant pic.twitter.com/kbNFV23I9U

8.30am BST

Here’s my colleague, Henry McDonald, in Belfast, on how today is being marked in Northern Ireland:

At the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle in County Down, the 206 (Ulster) Battery of the Royal Artillery have just fired one of their light L118 guns to mark the start of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Of the 19,240 soldiers who fell on this day a century ago within 24 hours of the battle almost one-tenth were men from the 36th Ulster Division.

Meanwhile in Belfast all week, including this morning, residents of the Lower Newtonards Road have been getting a sound of what the bombardment sounded like on the Somme. A continuous audio loop of artillery fire has been played at strategic times of the day close to the loyalist Tower Street area in the east of the city. Also, each day up until 1 July a local history project has erected plaques on walls dedicated to each of the residents from the lower end of the Newtonards Road who fought at the Somme.

8.17am BST

On Twitter, the images and stories of those who fought 100 years ago are flowing, including from the author Paddy Magrane.

One hundred years ago, my grandfather climbed out of a trench and began walking towards the German line at Gommecourt. #Somme100

He was struck in the cheek by shrapnel or a bullet. The wound left him blind in the right eye. He was one of the lucky ones. #Somme100

100 yrs ago Pte B.F.Talbot 7th Queens Regt went over the top at Battle of Somme.I'll tell his story today #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/bPjnL5HTDw

Edwin Smith of the Accrington Pals was killed at Serre 100 years ago.#WW1 #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/ybF6tOjHIx

Horace Iles was only 16 when he was killed, exactly 100 years ago.

Eternal grief.#Somme100 @sommecourt pic.twitter.com/Owj2NqrokY

8.12am BST

Coming up at 11am, a national commemorative event will be held at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France, to be attended by David Cameron, François Hollande and Prince William, among others.

At 3pm, a remembrance service will be held at Manchester Cathedral. There will also be an evening concert at Manchester’s Heaton Park.

7.54am BST

The Guardian published a leader on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme:

The Somme has gone down in British memory as a symbol of the human cost and futility of the first world war and, in some eyes, of all wars.

Related: The Somme during the first world war and now – interactive

7.45am BST

Here’s a scene from a unique art project, laying 19,420 12in figures in shrouds alongside each other, to give a physical sense of the human devastation that took place. Each figure is associated with the name of a soldier who fell on the first day of the campaign.

19239 laid. 1 last one tomorrow, 100 years after they died at the Somme. Indescribable. Open 7am tomorrow morning pic.twitter.com/Na6ORbBYI0

Sunshine on the shrouds this morning. Awaiting the arrival of the Lord Lieutenant of Devon for the opening ceremony pic.twitter.com/qt28B6CTQP

7.34am BST

Already, the number of casualties would have been rapidly rising.

A century ago now... the Pals generation like these men from Sheffield lay dead & wounded on the #Somme #Somme100 pic.twitter.com/XvyOtN1O6V

7.31am BST

Big Ben has chimed and the whistle has been sounded, bringing the silence to an end.

A piper is playing by the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, part of commemorations taking place across France, the UK and the Commonwealth.

A silent vigil has been taking place all night at Quedgeley War Memorial to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. pic.twitter.com/4Xm2KbGg6w

7.28am BST

The two-minute silence begins now.

7.26am BST

We’re approaching 7.28am, when a two-minute silence will be held to commemorate the moment British and Commonwealth soldiers were ordered to go over the top, beginning a campaign that would cause about 1 million casualties over four months.

On the 1st day of the #Somme, British Army suffered 57,470 casualties, incldng 19,240 killed – heaviest casualty toll in a 24 hour period.

7.23am BST

Overnight, a vigil to commemorate the centenary of the Somme was held at Westminster Abbey.

4.31pm BST

The Battle of the Somme was expected to be a significant victory for the British and French against the Germans. However, carnage ensued on both sides – despite the frontline barely moving – in a battle that came to symbolise the horrors of trench warfare and the futility of the war. A total of 19,240 British soldiers died on the first day, making it the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. Among the worst hit of British forces were the “Pals” battalions, volunteer units of limited fighting experience who headed straight into German machine-gun fire. The 2,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Bradford Pals, both part of the West Yorkshire Regiment, suffered 1,770 casualties in the first hour of the offensive as they attacked the heavily fortified village of Serre.

4.18pm BST

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the defining events of the first world war.

The battle, fought along a 15-mile front near the river Somme in northern France, took place between July and November 1916. It was planned as the major allied effort on the western front for that year, but a desperate battle between French and German forces at Verdun meant the British army assumed the main role.

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