The 1st July 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
At 7.30am on the morning of the battle thousands of young men rose from their trenches and walked across No Man’s Land towards the enemy trenches.
On that single day the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties of which 19,000 men died. The objective on that first day are shown in the map below:
For families on the home front, newspapers and magazines provided information. Seeing images of the battle meant reading the papers or magazines.
Here is a typical image of “Going over the Top” from our copy of the Illustrated London News from the later stages of the Battle of the Somme, showing that the dominion troops were heavily engaged:
An edition shows British troops capturing Montauban in late July:
You can read daily coverage of the Somme battle in the Times Digital Archive and I selected part of one of the first editorials/ leaders to come out on July 3rd where indications are that the battle was going favourably:
Contrast this with the Roll of Honour of Friday 4th August 1916:
Punch Magazine took a different view on the seemingly never-ending battle as we can see from this image of October 25th 1916:
Having visited the Western Front several years ago I was struck by the openness of the landscape, its tranquillity. The scars remain of course and the area is populated by cemeteries and memorials along the frontline.
Some of the areas which I found very moving on my visit included:
The Lochnagar Mine Crater at La Boisselle on the Somme which was sprung at 7.28am on the 1st July and shows that the war was also waged underground by Royal Engineers and the devastation this caused
Delville Wood was also an incredibly atmospheric place to visit. It was where battalions of the South African Brigade came under artillery fire from the Germans during their attempt to capture and then defend the wood in mid July 1916
The South African Brigade had gone into battle here on 15th July 1915 with strength of 121 officers and 3,032 other ranks. At roll call on 21st July they numbered only 29 officers and 751 other ranks.
Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont Hamel is one of only a few sites on the Western Front where the ground remains largely untouched from when the First World War ended and there are preserved trenches:
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, part of the 29th Division, which had seen action at Gallipoli (1915) arrived in France in April 1916 and attacked on the 1st July 1916 at 9.15am as part of the second wave and suffered great losses in their attempt to Beaumont Hamel with 90% casualties.
Just in front of the Caribou in the above photo are the trenches from which the Newfoundland’s launched their attack.
During the First World War plans were already being made on how to commemorate the fallen and I would recommend Empires of the Dead by David Crane (2013) if you are interested in the story behind the building of the British and Commonwealth war cemeteries.
The most poignant and the largest memorial and the focus of commemorations on the 1st July is the Thiepval Memorial to the missing. This commemorates the 72,195 dead of all the battles fought in the Somme area July 1915-November 1918 who have no known grave.
Total allied casualties during those 141 days were 623,907.
Lest We Forget.
To access all the databases used to research this blog please see:
Punch Historical Archive 1841-1992
Visit the Times Digital Archive
The Illustrated London News is available at the Central Reference Library
Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Librarian