I can’t begin to imagine the thoughts of fear and anxiety that were going through the minds of young men at this time 100 years ago. The first day of the Somme offensive, 1st July 1916, was the opening day of the Battle of Albert (1 – 13th July). The objective of the attack was to capture the German first and second positions from Serre south to the Albert–Bapaume road and the first position from the road south to Foucaucourt.
A huge artillery bombardment preceded the attack on the 1st July. The sheer weight of the barrage was supposed to have neutralised the German defences and the allied generals assumed taking them would be a “walk in the park”. But the Germans had dug in well and their defences and resolve were far from “neutralised”.
13 British and 6 French Divisions attacked the German lines held by 6 enemy Divisions. The British, Commonwealth and French soldiers attacked at a brisk walking pace……….during the first day British forces suffered 57,470 casualties including 19,240 killed. The first day was the start of a bitter struggle which lasted for five months until November 1918, claiming the lives of almost 1 million men.
One of the units present at the start of the battle was the 160th (Wearside) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (34 Division, III Corps). You can see their position on the map above, to the North East of Albert. The recruitment of men into the 160th (Wearside) Brigade began on the 1st March 1915 with the overwhelming majority of the new recruits, including the officers, hailing from Sunderland, Wearside and the surrounding districts including Whitburn, Seaham and Gateshead. These men came from all walks of life, “from the privileged well educated families of rich industrialists, to the poorest labourers that worked in the mines and shipyards.”
I’ve just downloaded the official War Diary of the 160th Brigade from the National Archive. It covers the period 1st July to 31st October 1916.
The entry for the 1st July 1916 reads as follows:
34th Division attacked German defences in accordance with IV Army Scheme Operation Orders as attached to War Diary for June 1916. B/160 shelled, 1 man wounded, who afterwards died of wounds.
You can read more about the 160th at the following websites:
There is so much going on in the North East to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Check out the following links:
In these troubled political times there seems to be so much division, resentment and fear in our society. It’s becoming stifling. We need to keep in mind the bitter lessons of the past. With the First World War vanished from living memory and the Second World War quickly following suite the deterrent for avoiding the breakdown of democracy is becoming diluted. Division and fear allows evil to take root and ultimately everyone loses when hate flourishes. So let’s remember the tragedy that happened 100 years ago. Remember it before making a hasty tweet or divisive comment. We need to keep it together, be compassionate, be open and forgiving and ensure that history does not repeat itself.
To the fallen.