They were called the “walking ghosts” of the brave men who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
And their haunting presence in many towns and cities across Britain on the 100th anniversary moved many startled onlookers to tears.
“It was so emotional,” said Blackpool actor Jack Bell who was part of the platoon of First World War soldiers who mingled silently with commuters at Preston Station before marching up Fishergate to the Flag Market.
“The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and we weren’t allowed to speak. So, while no-one knew exactly why we were there or what we were doing, it was clear that many were overcome with emotion.”
‘We’re here because we’re here’ was a national event to mark the centenary of the bloodiest moment in British military history when 19,240 men were killed on the first day of the Somme offensive. Hundreds from Lancashire fell that day, all-but wiping a generation of young men from towns like Chorley and Accrington.
Jack added: “A group of us came over to Preston and spent some time on the railway station, from where so many soldiers would have left to go to war. Then we walked up Fishergate to the city centre.
“Lots of people came up to us to ask what it was all about. We couldn’t tell them, we just handed out cards with the name of a soldier who was killed at the Somme. Mine was a private from the Manchester Regiment who was 23 when he was killed.
“We started off at 7.30am, the exact time that the troops went over the top. And while we couldn’t speak, every so often we sang the trenches song ‘We’re here because we’re here.’ It was the most moving thing I’ve ever been involved in and a real honour to be part of.”