Somme centenary remembrance

Soldiers wait to go over the top at the Battle of the Somme
Soldiers wait to go over the top at the Battle of the Somme

To commemorate the first day of the Battle of the Somme people are being invited to attend their local war memorial in time for 0730 on 1 July 2016.

Ideally, at each war memorial across Dumfries and Galloway, a whistle will be blown three times at 0730 and a minute’s silence observed.

Dumfries and Galloway Councillor Archie Dryburgh, Armed Forces Champion, said: “The first day of the Battle of the Somme is one of the darkest days in British military history. To commemorate the centenary of this awful battle and spare a thought for those killed and wounded, I urge as many people as possible to go along to their local community war memorial in time for an act of remembrance at 0730 on 1 July 2016.”

The Battle of the Somme commenced at 0730 on 1 July 1916, when whistles were blown to announce the attack.

British and Colonial soldiers emerged from their trenches along a 15 mile front to attach the German lines to the north. French soldiers attacked along an 8 mile front to the south.

The aims of the battle were to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun and to weaken the German Army.

For seven days prior to 1 July, artillery bombarded the German lines, launching 1.7 million shells. However, the Germans had taken cover in deep reinforced bunkers from which they emerged when the bombardment ended, knowing that this signalled an imminent attack. With machine guns, they mowed down the advancing soldiers as they walked towards them.

The first day of the Somme offensive would turn out to be the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. 19,240 British soldiers were killed. Another 38,230 were wounded.

Unfortunately, this was the first involvement in the war for many of Britain’s new volunteer army of ‘Pals Battalions’, which had been formed to encourage friends from the same community to join-up and serve. The carnage on the Somme resulted in catastrophic losses of young men from those communities, with whole units being wiped out. Local papers listed the dead, wounded and missing for weeks on end.

Initially the French gained considerable territory while the British captured just 3 square miles of ground. Over the course of the battle, the gains were lost to counter attacks. Without a decisive breakthrough, the battle turned into a stalemate.

A renewed offensive in September 2016 failed to make any significant impact. Heavy rains in October turned the battleground in a muddy quagmire. When the battle came to an end in November, five months of fighting had resulted in one million soldiers from the opposing sides being killed or wounded.