The Battle of the Somme was a battle that occurred on the Western Front in 1916 involving British, French, and German Armies. It was one of the largest battles and bloodiest military operations ever recorded, as there were more than one million casualties, including the most Wellington College old boys sent out to war.
The overall plan was to attack the Central powers (including Germany) simultaneously, on three fronts, in 1916 by the French and British from the west, and the Italians in the south, and Russian armies from the east intending to create a rupture in the German line and then exploited with a decisive blow. Although the plans and territorial objectives failed, as only the British, and French armies decided to attack German forces, and they only penetrated a total of 6 miles. This caused casualties to 420,000 British, 200,000 French, 500,000 German soldiers, and 38 Wellington College Old Boys, which severely impacted those societies. Some historians severely criticize senior officers, while other historians have portrayed the Somme as a vital preliminary to the eventual defeat of the German Army, and one which taught the British army, and J.P Firth a lesson.
The attack began on the first of July, 1916 with a predominately British force clambering out of their trenches and crossing No Man's
Land under constant German machine gun and artillery fire. With thousands of British dying, the attack soon stalled and deteriorated
into disaster. On that day the British suffered almost 60,000 casualties making it the bloodiest day in British military history. Still determined, the British command ordered the assault to continue the
next day with the hope of breaking through the German lines.
Despite their utter determination, this attempt and the others that followed through the summer and fall months produced no breakthrough, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Finally, with the approach of winter, the battle was abandoned, and the British lay defeated.
Significant Experiences of New Zealand troops and
Wellington College Old Boys on the Battle of the
The soldiers did not enjoy fighting in the Battle of the Somme, and
couldn’t wait to get home. Sometimes the soldiers spent more than 24 hours under fire in the front line. Sickness spread, morale plummeted, and men wondered what they were becoming. Rifleman Sidney Gully described some of his fellow soldiers as 'half demented during the last couple of days. Unshaven, unwashed, covered in mud and almost devoid of energy and only half fed'.
Written by Chris Sole, 9RD