On 1 July 1916, British Tommies went over the top in what was the biggest attack in British military history, the Battle of the Somme. But Field Marshall Haig’s plan was flawed, and the troops suffered terrible losses. Instead of the breakout advance the Allies were hoping for, the army was bogged down in months of stalemate. 1 July is unlikely to ever be replaced as the most tragic day for the British Army.
1. The Lancashire Fusiliers’ trench before the Battle of Albert
Lasting 2 weeks, the Battle of Albert was the first military engagement of the Somme, and witnessed some of worst casualties of the entire war.
2. Graffiti from soldiers waiting to attack at the Somme
In the hollowed out caverns below the battlefield, soldiers waiting to be sent above ground etched their names and messages into the walls.
3. Vickers machine gun crew wearing gas masks near Ovillers
The Vickers machine gun was employed by the British army throughout the First World War, and was based on the designs of the 19th-century Maxim gun. It required a team of 6-8 men to operate, with one acting as the gunner, another feeding in the ammunition, and the rest needed to carry all of the equipment.
4. Pals battalion troops from the East Yorkshire Regiment marching to the trenches near Doullen
At the start of the war, men were encouraged to sign up in Pals battalions, where they could volunteer to fight alongside their friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Many of these battalions served for the first time at the Somme, with tragically heavy casualties.
The 10th (Service) Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, pictured here, spent the evening before the first day of the Somme cutting through British barbed wire to pave the way for their attack in the morning. Known as the Hull Pals, this battalion and 3 others like it would fight again at Oppy Wood in 1917.
The huge losses suffered by the Pals brigades at the Somme saw them largely disbanded in later years however, when conscription was introduced to breach the gap caused by waning morale.
5. Newfoundland Memorial Park on the Somme Battlefield
The Newfoundland Regiment fought their first major engagement on the Somme’s first day in July 1916. In just 20 minutes 80% of their force were killed or wounded, and out of 780 men only 68 were fit for duty the next day.
6. British Gunners watching German prisoners pass by following the Battle of Guillemont
The Battle of Guillemont took place from 3-6 September 1916, and saw the British at last secure the village of Guillemont after repeated attempts in earlier months. They then went on to take Leuze Wood, dubbed ‘Lousy Wood’ by the British soldiers, with the French also securing a number of villages in the area.
7. Danger Tree site and replica, Beaumont-Hamel Battlefield
The Danger Tree began its life amongst a cluster of trees located around halfway through No Man’s Land, and had been used by the Newfoundland Regiment as a landmark in the days before the Somme began.
During the fighting, German and British bombardment soon stripped it of its leaves, leaving only the bare trunk remaining. It continued to be used as a landmark by the Newfoundland Regiment however, with the Germans soon identifying it as a target. It then became a deadly spot for Allied troops to linger, affording it the nickname ‘Danger Tree’.
Today a replica remains at the site, with the scars of the battlefield evident in the surrounding area.
8. An early model British Mark I ‘male’ tank near Thiepval
Likely in reserve for the oncoming Battle of Thiepval Ridge on 26 September, this Mark I tank shows the early stages of British tank design. In later models, the ‘grenade shield’ atop the tank and the steering tail behind it would be removed.
9. Stretcher bearers at the Battle of Thiepval Ridge
Taking place in September, the Battle of Thiepval Ridge was a large offensive with mixed results for both sides. During the fighting, Britain experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment, and tank-infantry co-operation.
10. Thiepval Memorial, France
At the end of the Somme, thousands of British and Commonwealth troops remained missing. Today, over 72,000 are commemorated at Thiepval Memorial, where each of their names are carved into the stone panels of the monument.