Centenary of the First Day of the Somme

Thanks to Surrey Infantry Museum

Thanks to Surrey Infantry MuseumA joint Anglo-French offensive fought in north-east France between 1st July and mid-November 1916, this battle has achieved iconic status largely because of the huge number of casualties suffered on the first day  – 57,000 British and Commonwealth dead, missing and wounded.

The British attacked in the sector north of the River Somme, and the French to the south, along a front line of about 25 miles.

The main objective of the offensive was to relieve  pressure on the embattled French armies fighting further south around the city of Verdun. The Germans attacked Verdun in February 1916 and, four months later, the French defenders were at breaking point. It was hoped that action on the Somme would draw sufficient enemy troops away to allow the French to recover. If Verdun fell, there was a strong possibility that the French would sue for peace. The British commander, Sir Douglas Haig, argued for more time to prepare but had to bow to political pressure and reluctantly agreed to launch the offensive on July 1st.Thanks to Surrey Infantry Museum

The ‘battle’ of the Somme consisted of 13 separate battles over a period of 20 weeks. Battalions from the Surrey Regiments fought in 11 of these engagements.  It is well documented that British casualties after the first day’s battle stand at 57,000.  The Surrey Battalions supplied 15,000 men to the British Army during the entire Somme campaign; 9,000 estimated to have been killed, missing in action or wounded, and 2975 were confirmed as killed in action.

Surrey’s newspapers between July-November 1916 were filled with rolls of honour, listing Surrey men killed on the Somme battlefields.  The images below show a few examples.

14 July 1916, Surrey Herald
14 July 1916, Surrey Herald

The Battle of the Somme film, screened in cinemas across the country in 1916, was the first time the general public had been shown film footage of war.  The government did not produce it, but they did approve it. It was very controversial because audiences were shown sometimes graphic footage of the realities of war; many felt it showed too much.  However, it seems that the majority appreciated being able to see what life was like for their men fighting abroad.  Contemporary Surrey newspapers feature advertisements for Battle of the Somme screenings, and often the follow up reaction.  The example below shows how the Surrey Mirror reported on a screening in Reigate:

Reaction to a screening of the 'Battle of the Somme' film, taken from the Surrey Mirror on 1 September 1916

Reaction to a screening of the ‘Battle of the Somme’ film, taken from the Surrey Mirror on 1 September 1916

For list of Surrey memorials with a Somme link, click here.  For a list of Somme related results in our catalogue, click here.

Read about individual Surrey men who fought at the Somme here:

Albert Gregory

Frank Pierce

Charles Alcock

J R Ackerley

East Surrey’s Football Charge

Wilfred Owen, who trained at the Witley Camp prior to fighting at the Somme

8th Surrey’s at Montauban (thebignote.com provides thorough and insightful research into the movements of the British Amy in Flanders)

2 Responses to “Centenary of the First Day of the Somme”

  1. JACKIE MONTAGUE

    PLEASE CAN YOU HELP? I’M TRYING TO TRACE A GENTLEMAN CALLED JOHN WILLIAM HIGGINSON WHO DIED ON 1ST JULY 1916 HE WAS A PRIVATE WITH THE 1ST BN., EAST LANCASHIRE REGIMENT NO. 18629, AGE 33

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