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The close of the vigil at the Grave of the Unknown Solider in Westminster Abbey, London, as the nation honours thousands of soldiers killed in the Battle of the Somme, 100 years after its bloody beginning, Britain Friday July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Dominic Lipinski/Pool

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LONDON (Reuters) - Soldiers, politicians, royalty and ordinary citizens stood in silence, heads bowed, on Friday in ceremonies across Britain and France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history.

The devastating World War One clash began on July 1, 1916, along a 15-mile (24 km) front near the River Somme in northern France, where British and French forces hoped to win a decisive victory against Germany.

Around 20,000 British soldiers died on the first day alone to capture just a few square miles of territory. By the end of the battle in November more than one million men had perished and the allies had advanced just seven miles (11 km).

At the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in France, members of the British royal family joined Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande for a special service of remembrance.

At a ceremony on Thursday, Prince William had paid tribute during a vigil at Thiepval to those who lost their lives during the battle.

In Britain the anniversary was marked with a gun salute in London as well as services elsewhere, including Cardiff and Edinburgh. A two-minute silence was also held across the country.

Silent actors dressed as British World War One troops also appeared in public squares, standing expressionless and representing soldiers killed in the Battle of the Somme.

    At London's Waterloo train station, the actors handed out cards bearing the name, age, rank and military unit of the slain soldier they represented.

(Reporting By Reuters Television; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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