Somme battle - 19,240 killed in just one day

An officer leads his men over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme
An officer leads his men over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme

Exactly 100 years ago today, on July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme began. It was supposed to be the Allied offensive that brought the war to a swift end. Instead, that first day saw 60,000 British casualties, with 19,240 dead. It remains the darkest day in the history of the British Army.

Due to the slower nature of news coverage then, the first reports of the battle didn’t appear in the Galloway Gazette until a week later, and they were heavily censored to maintain morale on the home front.

The Galloway Gazette, July 8th, 1916

A wounded private from the Gordon Highlanders wrote home: “It was an open secret that something was about to happen on our front. The trenches were full of rumours for days, and on Friday afternoon the word went round there was going to be a scrap. Immediately every man’s face lit up. The guns roared through the night and in the morning it suddenly stopped as if to say ‘Silence for the Infantry’. The word ‘charge‘ rang out, and instantly were over the parapet.

“The Gordons had the honour of leading the attack, and we raced across the rugged ground to the German trenches. Never in my life have I looked upon such a sight of wreckage and death. We encountered close upon a thousand German corpses, and human limbs were scattered amongst the battered defences.

“The Gordons continued to dash ahead, until out of nowhere they were spat upon by machine guns. The Germans put up a wonderful fight, and proved that there were some plucky soldiers in their army. The Bavarians were tall, well-built fellows, and knew how to use the steel.

“During the evening there were counterattacks, but we stalled them off. We poured our machine guns on them, and hundreds surrendered glad to be made prisoners.”