JUST after 7.30am last Friday morning, the vast parade ground at Vimy Barracks, Catterick Garrison shook with the noise of heavy field guns signalling the exact moment 100 years ago when British soldiers went over the top on the first day of the Battle of Somme.

As the reverberating echo of the big guns faded away, it was replaced by the sound of a whistle and rapid machine gun fire.

Smoke began to roll across the parade ground bringing with it hundreds of cherry-red poppies.

It was a dramatic audio-visual re-enactment of what those first terrifying minutes of battle must have been like for the thousands of men who faced their destiny on that horrendous day.

Almost 2,000 servicemen and women attended the drumhead parade last Friday. It was an impressive sight but the most sobering thought was that the massed ranks assembled there represented just a tenth of the British soldiers who gave their lives on that first day of the battle 100 years ago.

This most moving parade and ceremony was impeccably organised by the Garrison Commander and his team and I thank them for a meticulous job well done. It was a privilege and a great honour to be alongside community representatives, including the Mayor of Richmond and the chairman of Richmondshire District Council, laying wreaths in memory of the dead.

Later that same morning I was surrounded by and having fun with lots of young people which only caused me to reflect further on the sacrifice by so many young men a century ago.

I was at Melsonby Methodist Primary School immediately after the Catterick commemoration and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours talking to pupils, their parents and teachers.

Melsonby school is typical of many primary schools in the constituency.

It is small by national standards and not surprisingly the parents had some concerns about the long-term future of their school and others.

I was able offer reassurance in the form of the current review of the national schools funding formula which unfairly penalises rural schools. Areas like North Yorkshire receive hundreds of pounds less per pupil than many urban areas.

After a successful campaign by me and other MPs representing rural constituencies, the Government is now in the process of drawing up a new formula which recognises factors like sparsity – the extra costs rural counties carry because of the remoteness of the many communities they serve.

Schools like Melsonby should benefit from the new funding formula which will bring with it £500m a year of new money pledged in the last Budget.

They should also benefit from working with neighbouring schools and I was heartened to hear of Melsonby’s collaboration with the neighbouring Ravensworth and Barton village schools.

We have many such informal arrangements or federations in place in North Yorkshire now and I’m convinced they are the way forward to protect village schools and give our children get the best possible start to their formal education.

While at the Melsonby, members of the school council gave me a proper grilling – the questions were exactly the sort that feared interrogator of politicians Andrew Neil would pose on his Daily Politics TV show!