Follow the events of the Somme offensive using the First World War archives of the Regimental and Corps Museums found on The Ogilby Muster. Beginning on 1st July until the end of the offensive on 18th November, we will highlight the stories and experiences of those who were involved through letters, diaries, and photographs.
Each week we will add new entries corresponding to those same days all those years ago, allowing you to follow the action as it unfolded for those soldiers and officers experiencing the battle. We will also add in extra information from Army collections, highlighting the roles and experiences of soldiers across different Regiments of the British Army.
Check back in to see if a new entry has been made and follow us on social media or use #SommeStories to be the first to hear about new developments on the Somme in the words of those who served.
24th June 1916
From the diary of Cpt. Geoffrey Martin (108 Heavy Battery RGA): “U Day. Western offensive (Somme) begins…”
On this day in 1916, the largest aerial bombardment of the Great War began. Over 1.5 million shells were fired, day and night, at the newly reinforced German trench system. 1,000 field guns, 233 howitzers and 180 counter-battery guns were used to create breaches in the wire, severely damage the German trench system and demoralise the German troops. The bombardment lasted one week, leading up to the Battle of the Somme, which was launched at 7:30am on 1st July 1916.
30th June 1916
From the letters of Cpt. Gribble, part of the Fusilier Museum, Lancashire collection.
“My own true heart’s love… We are in the midst of it again now and your letters put new life into me truly heart of mine… Darling, my thoughts are every minute of you and all the dear ones at home… and I pray for the time when I may set eyes on your dear face again.”
On the 30th June, 1916, the men of 15th Lancashire Fusiliers (1st Salford Pals) were readying themselves for the first throes of the Battle of the Somme near Thiepval. One of many Pals Battalions to fight during the offensive, this was to be their first taste of fighting.
Amongst the 1st Pals was Cpt Thomas Gribble. He had written to his wife Madelaine frequently during his time on the Western Front in the same romantic fashion. However, as well as being able to see his love for her and his family, a number of the letters he sent at the end of June hinted at the coming Somme offensive.
It was only after the experience of the 1st Pals the following day, on the 1st July, that the tone of his letters changed…
Read the full letter by clicking here.
1st July 1916
On this day in 1916, the whistles blew on the first wave of the British infantry attack, beginning one of the deadliest military offensives in history.
At 7:20am, the attack was preceded by the explosion of a mine at the Hawthorne Redoubt, a fortification to the west of the German stronghold at Beaumont Hamel. Although it succeeded in destroying the position, it was subsequently reinforced and German machine gunners were readied in their positions in anticipation of further action. This was to have deadly consequences…
At 7:30am, 120,000 men from across the allied line were met with a wave of German machine gun fire, as 11 Divisions of the British Forces advanced across no man’s land to begin the offensive. However, the British artillery bombardment had not achieved a complete destruction of the German barded wire defences across the Front, making it difficult to break through.
Despite some successes further south in areas such as Mametz, Montauban, Schwaben Redoubt and Leipzig Redoubt, the allies fell short of their objectives. 57,000 men were lost on the first day, the bloodiest first day in one of the bloodiest offensives in human history.
The newspaper article can be found in the Prince of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Collection, located in York Army Museum. This collection can be explored further by clicking here.
A Heavy Price to Pay – The experience of the 8th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment
1st July 1916, 19,240 men killed, the largest loss of life for the British Army in a single day, a fact the 8thBattalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment would come to know all too well.
1916 was the year of conscription. Many men on the front lines of the Somme had never seen major action before and would now be taking part in the largest attack the British Army had ever attempted. In the weeks building up to the 1st of July, the 8th Battalion prepared for the offensive by practising on a flagged course, building up the rank’s morale, skills, confidence, and coordination. An artillery bombardment the week before was supposed to destroy German defences, however with orders to extend the objectives of the attack, it meant that this bombardment wasn’t as successful as hoped.
When the 8th Battalion went over the top at 7:30am on the morning of July 1st, the war diary states they were met with extremely heavy machine gun fire. Most men in the first wave were killed or wounded almost instantly. The remaining waves managed to advance to around halfway across no man’s land. 70 men made it to the German trenches where they remained fighting until they were killed or taken prisoner. Only three men returned to the British front line.
Starting the day with 23 Officers and 680 Other Ranks, the 8th Battalion ended with only 68 Other Ranks returning, all Officers had been killed or wounded. 90% of the battalion were casualties or prisoners, the biggest loss to a single battalion the York and Lancaster Regiment suffered on the 1st July 1916.
On the 2nd of July the survivors of the action were withdrawn to camp at the Long Valley, Millencourt, where they rested. One can only imagine what it was like for them that evening having witnessed the mass slaughter of all their friends and colleagues.
The battalion was not called upon for any “very active” service immediately and made their way to Contalmaison where they suffered light casualties after they had been replenished with a draft of 270 men on the 12th of July. These men came from the Highland Light Infantry, Northumberland Fusiliers, and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Another draft of 226 men arrived on the 13th of July and they came from the Northumberland Fusiliers and Yorkshire Regiment.
The 8th would continue to fight in the Somme region for the remainder of the campaign but would never meet a fate as dreadful as that of the 1st of July 1916.
3rd July 1916
Away from the death and destruction of the Somme battlefield, back home people were hearing about the first day of the ‘Great British Offensive’.
Despite successes further to the south, the first days of the Somme saw bloodshed on an enormous scale. For the newspapers, however, the first day of the Somme was hailed largely as a triumph. With only a few selected journalists allowed near the front and information largely censored, people back home were fed an altered version of events.
This newspaper article is from the Royal Artillery Museum Collection. To search this collection for more information, click here.
5th July 1916
We return to the letters of Cpt Gribble and the first which he sent to his wife following the start of the Somme offensive on the 1st July. Although able to send letters, he still had to hold back some of the details.
“On my return yesterday from ….. there were about six lovely letters from you to welcome me… I did not get any for some time owing to present happenings. Things have been very busy here of late and of course the papers are full. I am the only Officer left in my company now and I have lost all of my chums in the recent fighting…”
“I have seen some terrible things of late and it is hard to believe it is real…”
On the first day, 1st Salford Pals lost 21 of their 24 Officers and over 400 of 650 other ranks, as they fought at Thiepval. In just a few hours, a huge part of the Salford community had been wiped out…
These letters form part of the Fusilier Museum, Bury. To search the collection, click here.
7th July 1916
The first day of the attack on Mametz Wood saw many men, including those of the 38th Welsh Division, lose their lives whilst falling short of reaching the wood. The fighting continued for several days, with attacks on Mametz continuing until 12th July, when the Germans moved back from the northern area of the wood to their second line.
Major-General Jardine’s typescript diaries, describing his experiences of the war, are part of the Royal Artillery Archives collection on The Ogilby Muster.
While his diary does not include entries between the 1st and 4th July – “He would certainly have been extremely busy during these 96 hours” – they start again from the 5th July, describing the work being undertaken by the men as well as the bombing they were all exposed to. However, his entry on the 7th July provides an insight into his own personal feelings:
“Go up to the OP and spend one of the bloodiest days I’ve ever spent: and do more swearing than I’ve done for a long time… Altogether I nearly went mad with rage… The whole day I reported that the enemy held Quadrangle support trench, but the only answer I got was that it was in our hands and that I must not shell. Danced with rage at seeing the enemy walking about outside the trench and holding up our attacks. I could see the whole situation, but I was powerless to help.”
To search the archives of the Royal Artillery collection, click here.
11th July 1916
“Make your peace with God…You are going to take that position, and some of us won’t come back – but we are going to take it.”
Lt-Col Carden, 16th Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Following the failures of the first few days fighting at Mametz Wood, the 38th Division launched another attack between 10th and 12th July. The fighting was chaotic as the Welsh forced the Germans northwards back through the wood. By nightfall on 11th July, the Germans began to evacuate the wood, having taken heavy casualties.
The images seen here are taken from a scrapbook compiled by Lt. Shillington, who served with the 16th Royal Welch Fusiliers. His scrapbook is part of the Royal Welch Fusilier collection on The Ogilby Muster. To search the collection, click here.
15th July 1916
The 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment were in reserve at Montauban during the first phase of the Somme offensive, before going on to lead in the attacks at Trones Wood from the 8th to the 15th July. This advance saw 240 of their men wounded.
Over 50 miles away in Abbeville, Private W. J. Turner of the 2nd Bn. Wilts was in No. 2 Stationary Hospital, recovering from a bullet to the right arm taken during the initial attack. Without the ability to write for himself, Sister M. Richards wrote home for him, describing him “such a good patient”…
“He asked me to tell you not to expect him home for quite a long time as of course it will be sometime before he is well enough to leave us…. We are devoted to him and you may be certain everything possible will be done for him.”
To explore the collection of the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum on The Ogilby Muster, click here.
18th July 1916
Charles William Gillings (1890 – 1916) – 8th Battalion Black Watch
Charles William Gillings was born on the 24th of April 1890 in Orford, Suffolk. At age 21, he initially looked to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining Southend Borough Constabulary. He served on the force for three years before joining the 8th Battalion, The Black Watch, on 22 October 1914. The 8th Battalion had been raised as part of Kitchener’s New Army and had recently joined the 26th Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division in August of 1914. This Division was originally made up of the 8th Black Watch, 7th Seaforth Highlanders, 5th Cameron Highlanders, 10th Argyll and Sutherland, 26th Machine Gun Company, 26th Trench Mortar Battery, 63rd Field Company and 27th Field Ambulance. After training at Salisbury, they were mobilised to France in May 1915. By July 1916, plans to capture and occupy the town of Longueval were underway.
On 18 July, the 8th Battalion came under continual heavy bombardment from the enemy which proceeded another counterattack with overwhelming numbers. In response to this, Lt Col Gordon of the 8th Battaliondecided to mount a counterattack which saw the men advance across the central square where they were confronted by the enemy coming from the south-east corner of the wood. The Highlanders suddenly charged forward, taking the much larger German force by surprise. By midday the southern part of Longueval was in the possession of the Scottish Soldiers who had managed to drive the enemy back. However, during the fighting, Charles noticed a fellow soldier who had been injured. Whilst trying to help his injured comrade by administering first aid to him, an enemy shell suddenly exploded nearby killing Charles and four others instantly. Charles was twenty-six years old. A committed soldier, he was awarded the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the 1914-15 Star.
Although the Battle of Delville Wood is seen as a tactical victory, with the advances made being pivotal during the war, it came at the expense of heavy casualties. It is estimated that the British and French armies lost more than 200,000 men by the end of July 1916. The 18th of July alone saw the 8th Battalion lose 185 men – including Charles. However, the sacrifice made was not in vain. The historian of the 9th Division recorded that it was “the charge of the Highlanders that saved Longueval when a serious disaster seemed inevitable…Not merely does it illustrate the unflinching courage of the Highlanders of the 26th Brigade, but it is a brilliant example of the value of a prompt counterattack boldly carried out by even a few men against a resolute and numerous enemy.”
Charles was originally buried 150 yards south of Longueval Church. Sadly, as Longueval was the scene of further shelling during WWI, his grave was disturbed. His body, if ever recovered, was not identified and he is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial.
To explore the collections of the Black Watch Castle and Museum on The Ogilby Muster, click here.
19th July 1916
Following on from the actions the day before, on the 19th July, the village of Longueval – seen as crucial to the success of the second wave of the Somme Offensive – was reinforced by battalions of 1st South African Brigade following days of intense fighting.
Opening with a surprise attack by 26th Brigade on the first German line at 3am on 14th July, the attack lasted five days. The 8th Battalion Black Watch, part of 26 Brigade, were also
central to the events, driving back a heavy German attack on the village on the 18th July, before being reinforced by the South African Brigade on the 19th July.
This postcard, part of the Black Watch Castle and Museum collection on The Ogilby Muster, shows a depiction of the Pipers of the Eighth Battalion Black Watch after the battle.
To search this collection, click here.
25th July 1916
In the archives of The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry (DLOY) rests a First World War scrap book which was kept by Captain F. N. Percival. Captain F. N. Percival DLOY was a Second Lieutenant in 1913 and attended Annual Camp at Greystokes, Cumbria. When the First World War broke out, he served initially in Europe and latterly in the Middle East, being finally demobbed at Thetford in February 1919.
The following extract from Captain Percival’s scrap book reflects his experiences of the Somme, including the agitation and annoyance with which the Yeomanry and their horses were received amongst the mud, blood and traffic confusion on the way to the Front. For many of their duties, the horses were left stabled behind the front lines while the troops were employed on many of the less glamorous jobs of the battlefield.
(The following is an exact transcription).
Somme Battle, July – Nov 1916
Regimental Hdqrs at BEAUCOURT & DERNANCOURT. Regiment in trenches for few days nr BE’COURT WOOD but as a rule split up into small parties for following duties: observation posts and sniping, parties for carrying bombs, rations and ammunition, traffic control, prisoner escort, cleaning up battlefield etc etc.
A Yeoman’s Night on the Somme
Jul 1916 Received orders in our camp at Dernancourt 7.30 p.m. to carry bombs up to CONTALMAISON just captured by 23rd Div. Ride away at once through FRICOURT to R.E. dump on FRICOURT – C—N Road, here get thoroughly mixed up with guns advancing and wounded returning and damned for bringing horses into such a place. Dismount and load ourselves with bombs leaving horses on road-side, no sign of our promised guide, proceed up road – mud, blood and confusion! Turn into some trenches at ROUND WOOD; push on some distance, very dark and imagine we are close to the Huns, eventually find that we are at least 1/2 mile away. Call a halt and rest, upon restarting – a grim incident, a sergeant sees a form in side of a trench, shakes him by the arm & says ‘now come on or you will be left behind’ only to find he has no head. By this time, quite lost, but eventually give our bombs to a Scottish Bn & return reaching DERNANCOURT 5.30 am.
The original scrapbook is now with Lancashire County Records Office, Preston and a digitised copy is available in the DLOY online archives, click here.
To search the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry Collection on The Ogilby Muster, click here.
27th July 1916
The Battle of Pozieres is remembered for the heavy sacrifice of soldiers from the Australian Infantry Force (AIF). 1st Division AIF had secured the town of Pozieres on 24th July, but faced heavy German counterattacks, during which their strength was depleted. As part of 2nd Division AIF, 23rd Bn relieved the depleted forces in the early hours of 27th July. Having moved up to the front line, they were met with relentless German shelling. Here they geared up for an advance beyond Pozieres.
Between the 28th and 29th July, 23rd Battalion attacked the German position to the north of Pozieres, but were met by ferocious German machine gun resistance, taking over 3,000 casualties. Having dug new assembly trenches, they attacked again on 4th August, this time capturing their objective. Fighting off a German counterattack on the 5th August, the exhausted 23rd Battalion AIF were relieved the following day.
The ‘Voice of the Battalion’, pictured here, tells the history of the 23rd Battalion of the Australian Infantry Force. It forms part of the AMOT collection on The Ogilby Muster. To explore this collection, click here.
4th August 1916
“We are the Boys of Hardship we stick, we went to France to do our bit
The more we do the more we may, it makes no difference to our pay
Now we are in Germans hands we always fail to understand
Why our rations are so small, we might as well have none at all
We are poor soldiers mild and meek, we starve with hunger all the week…”
This diary was kept by Pvt William McGrath (18th Manchester Regt), taken captive at Guillemont on 30th July with 50 of his battalion and two officers. McGrath was taken to Germany, where he remained for two years.
McGrath’s diary is part of the Manchester Regiment collection. You can read the whole document by searching the collection on The Ogilby Muster, just click here.
5th August 1916
The Wiltshire Regiment on the Somme.
Three battalions of the Wiltshire Regiment – the 1st, 2nd and 6th – fought in the First Battle of the Somme and all of them had suffered terrible casualties by the time the offensive came to an end in November 1916.
Two actions stand out. One was the capture of Trônes Wood on the northern slope of Montauban ridge by the 2nd Battalion on 8 July. After a charge across 500 yards of open ground, the Wiltshires bayoneted their way through the wood in what the regimental history calls “one of the most daring and dangerous attacks of the war”. There were 240 killed and wounded but the Battalion received high praise and 23 gallantry decorations. After the war, the 2nd Battalion used to celebrate ‘Trônes Wood Day’ every year.
The other action was the defeat of the renowned Prussian Guard by the 1st Battalion at Thiepval in August. After the Wiltshires captured objectives in the Leipzig Salient, the Germans brought up the Prussian Guard with orders to retake this key position. Their counter attacks were beaten off with tremendous losses to this corps but during the action the 1st Battalion lost 320 officers and men killed and wounded.
The 6th Battalion saw heavy fighting and captured the village of La Boiselle, northeast of Albert, after a week of continuous action in July. By the end of August the 6th, raised from volunteers who had come forward in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers in 1914, had suffered almost 400 casualties.
The Royal Berkshire Regiment
The Royal Berkshire Regiment had two battalions involved in the attack on the Somme, 1916. The 2nd Battalion and the 6th Battalion were both present, this is what happened with the 2nd Battalion.
On the 1st July, at 7.30am the Berkshires’ assaulting companies climbed out of the trenches and moved forward across no-man’s land, a manoeuvre which was being repeated all along the sixteen-mile front. What happened next is summed up in two lines of the Battalion’s report on the action:
“At 7.30am the three assaulting Companies advanced to attack the German line. They were met by intense rifle and machine gun fire which prevented any of the waves reaching the enemy’s lines.”
A small group of the Berkshires managed to get into the enemy trench but were soon bombed out again. The Commanding Officer, Lt-Col Holdsworth, and the Second in Command, Major Sawyer, were both wounded at 7.45am (Lt Col Holdsworth later died). Command devolved upon the 20-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Mollet, who, as Acting Adjutant, was the senior remaining officer – the company commanders were somewhere out in no-man’s land, either dead, wounded, or pinned down in shell holes by heavy fire. So ended the First Day of the Somme. The 2nd Royal Berkshires had lost 12 officers and 148 men were killed or missing, the Commanding Officer and 12 men died of wounds later, and 6 officers and 251 men were wounded, with a total of 430 casualties.
To do your own research of the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Regiment, click here.
8th August 1916
Following their progress at Pozieres, the 4th Australian Infantry Division pushed on to Mouquet Farm on 8th August, in order to provide a position beyond Thiepval leading up to Courcelette and Grandcourt.
The Australians made nine attacks on the Farm, before being forced back by a German counterattack on 3rd September. The 1st, 2nd and 4th lost a collective 11,000 lives in their attempts.
Providing support for the attack was the 34th Divisional Artillery. The attached sheet shows the divisional operational orders for the attack and can be found in the Royal Artillery Collection on The Ogilby Muster. Click here to search.
11th August 1916
Alongside the array of images, letters and maps from the Somme period, The Ogilby Muster also contains a large collection of memoirs from the offensive, including these from Lt. Byron Mason, A Division 175 RFA.
Here, Lt. Mason describes his first-hand experience of exchanging artillery fire with the Germans during the offensive.
“Our battery was shelled all night long but not much damage done. Liquid fire attack by the Germans on Pozieres lit up the sky…”
This memoir can be found in the Royal Artillery Collection on The Ogilby Muster. Click here to search.
15th August 1916
As the Somme Offensive progressed, the British Army had to make use of all the resources available. A key role was carried out by pigeons as part of the Carrier Pigeon Service…
At the start of the offensive in July 1916, there were 1,500 Carrier Pigeons in full training. By the end of 1916, there would be over 12,000.
Notes from a lecture given by Major A Waley on the Carrier Pigeon Service can be found in the Military Intelligence Museum collection on The Ogilby Muster.
‘The Pigeon Service boomed and the demand for more birds was incessant. Many mistakes still occurred. “S.O.S” calls were sent by pigeons tossed at 1 a.m. – clips were badly put on thus stopping the birds from trapping well – messages were tied on the pigeon’s leg with bits of string, in one case even round the bird’s neck with a shoe lace.’
‘As the men became more accustomed to the birds and Officers realised they could count on them, the conditions under which the pigeons returned to their lofts greatly improved…’
To read the full lecture notes, click here.
“Mowed Down Like Corn”:
The 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment and the Battle of the Somme
At 7:40am on 1st July, the 1st Hampshire Regiment left their trench to attack the German Redan Ridge, to the north of Beaumont Hamel. Following the East Lancashire Regiment, who had begun to cross No Man’s Land with the first Fourth Army line at 7:30am, 1st Battalion were met with an almighty assault of machine gun fire. Just like the East Lancashire regiment before them, 1st Battalion suffered catastrophic losses and failed to make any significant advances on the heavily defended German position at the Redan Redoubt. The Battalion were mostly brought down before the German barbed wire defense, which had remained largely intact despite the previous week’s artillery bombardment.
Writing home from his hospital bed on Saturday 8th July 1916, Private Edward Blaber described the first attack to his wife:
“I can hardly believe that I am in Hospital, for it was like coming from hell to heaven, for only those that went through the awful fight on Saturday July 1 and the next day, could describe what I mean by coming out of the gates of Hell…
We were mown down like corn by Machine Gun fire and shell fire, our dead lay in front of our barbed wire in hundreds. I shall never forget the awful sight”
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st Battalion lost all 26 officers, with 11 being killed and 15 wounded, with 560 other ranks losing their lives. In total, 26th Division lost nearly 6,000 men. For those lucky enough to survive the machine gun fire, all they could do was to find a shell hole to hide in and wait for the cover of darkness before returning to their trench. When the night came, the men of 1st Battalion left their holes, bringing as many of their wounded comrades back with them as possible.
The 1st Battalion’s record of services for 1914-1917 can be found on the Royal Hampshire Regiment Collection on The Ogilby Muster. Click here to start searching.
22nd August 1916
“So I lay down to sleep, my pillow a bomb,
In a little wet trench on the banks of the Somme.”
Poetry played a huge part in the story of the Somme, with many soldiers spending their time in the trenches putting their experiences into verse. Many famous poets, including Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon were influenced by their experiences on the Somme battlefields.
‘On the Banks of the Somme’ is part of the Royal Suffolk Regiment Collection. To search the collection, click here.
25th August 1916
As well as poetry, such as that written by Private ‘Dickey’ above, experiences of the Somme were reflected in other forms of art. Sketches such as this one can be found on The Ogilby Muster.
This particular series of sketches from the Western Front is believed to have been drawn by D. J. Sawyer, possibly of the Royal Flying Corps. It is part of the Museum of the Mercian Regiment (WFR Collection). To find out more, click here.
28th August 1916
“Big as it is, it is hardly a wood any longer but merely a tract of shattered tree stumps standing in a wilderness of shell holes and wreckage.”
This Times article, dated 26th August but published on 28th August, written by a special correspondent based with British Headquarters, describes the situation at Delville Wood – the scene of intense fighting since the earliest throes of the Somme Offensive. Despite the Germans returning with an intense artillery bombardment, the wood was held.
The British had nicknamed Delville Wood as “Devil’s Wood”, and it had been ‘the scene of almost continuous fighting for some five weeks.’ The article describes the prisoners taken, the ongoing bombardment and fighting, and the concern that the British public should lose interest in these reports as they had ‘become so nearly a daily formality’.
The capturing of Delville Wood was part of a string of successes in late August/early September, with Guillemont and Wedge wood falling into British hands on the 3rd of September.
31st August 1916
Alongside the accounts, diaries and maps that exist on The Ogilby Muster, there are also many images and postcards from the Somme offensive collected and sent by British Army soldiers and officers.
This postcard comes from an album put together by Pte. A. Humberstone, of 1/1st Cambridgeshire Regiment, who arrived at the Somme, to the north of Hamel, on this day in 1916.
5th September 1916
After two months of fighting, the landscapes in which battles were fought as part of the Somme Offensive looked very different from what they had been. In a watercolour by Lt. Billinghurst, a subaltern in 40th Field Battery RFA, we can see the landscape to the west of Mametz Wood.
This painting can be found in the Royal Artillery Collection on the Ogilby Muster. Click here to search this collection.
10th September 1916
September proved to be a momentous month for the allies, with gains being made at the battles of Ginchy, Flers Courcelette, Morval. This map, part of the Tank Museum collection, highlighted the objectives for XIV Corps in September 1916.
Dated 10th September, the positions on this map are correct following the Battle of Ginchy, which ended the day before. Ginchy, a village highlighted as a key point to expanding the line eastwards, had remained in German hands until it was attacked by the 16th Ulster Division at 16:45 on 9th September 1916.
The Tank Museum have a huge collection on The Ogilby Muster platform, including thousands of maps from throughout the Great War. Begin exploring them by clicking here.
15th September 1916
At 06:20, tanks rolled into action for the first time as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette began. As well as being a vitally important moment in military history, it also claimed an important role in the Battle of the Somme.
Escorted through the nights and days leading up to ‘zero hour’ at 6:20am on 15th September, tanks were about to bring the next period of the Somme offensive to life, as the allied forces looked to make a breakthrough at the German lines between the villages of Flers and Courcelette.
Though the sight of tanks brought initial shock to German soldiers, the advance fell well short of its ambitious plan. Many tanks fell due to technical failures, whilst others succeeded in drawing much attention and machine gun fire to themselves and the advancing infantry units.
The battle brought mixed success. Though there were obvious successes at Martinpuich, Flers and Courcelette, the ambitious plan of General Haig to force a breakthrough had not happened, with further attacks being needed at Morval on the 25th…
This image, of a Mark I, forms part of the Tank Museum collection on The Ogilby Muster. Start your search by clicking here.
19th September 1916
The Battles of the Somme from the 1 July 1916 through to the 18 November 1916 involved four Battalions of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers:
1st Bn the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were part of the 29th Division 87th Brigade.
2nd Bn the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were part of the 5th Division 13th Brigade.
6th Bn the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were part of the 9th (Scottish) Division 27th Brigade.
7th/8th Bn the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were part of the 15th (Scottish) Division 46 Brigade.
The Somme offensive was a complex plan put together by Sir Douglas Haig who believed in the tactics, based on experience gained at Loos. The plan was to attack the enemy with good Generalship; wearing down the enemy – forcing him to use his reserves then smashing him with fresh troops – and at the Somme it was intended to carry out this predetermine plan as far as possible with the added directive ‘What we have or gain we hold’ instilling a believe that gains in territory would be made.
On the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme Battles, 1st Bn K.O.S.B. attacked South of Y Ravine. The battalion had for the past few weeks in the rear carried out its preparations for the ‘Big Push’. Surprisingly, Staff Commanders made no attempt on secrecy or deception during the preparations of the Somme offensive. The enemy were not oblivious to all this hustle and bustle and were aware an attack was forthcoming.
The Borderers were positioned behind the 1st Bn Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers on the right flank of the 87th Brigade who would lead the attack in the first wave. Our artillery barrage had been constant since 24th June, this led soldiers to believe that the path towards Germany had to be literally blasted out with explosives. On the lifting of the barrage speculation on its effects set in the minds of officers and soldiers alike, prior to going over the top; Where the enemy MG’s knocked out? – Would they be met with a counter barrage? – Would the wire be cut? – The first two would be answered No and Yes, but no one would reach anywhere near the wire to find out, as the slaughter was nothing but absolute carnage on a grand scale.
Once the element of surprise was lost, the Hawthorn Redoubt mine initiated at 0720hrs gave warning to the German MG teams to set up, in fact they had 10 minutes to spare of their preparations, as the attack was scheduled for 0730hrs. Also due to the fixed lines of the terrain the enemy were able to fathom the plan and arrange his defence accordingly, this was mainly due to the time taken to implement each stage of our planned advance, handing the enemy valuable time to strengthen his fortifications.
One can only surmise what the Borderers thought as they saw the slaughter befall the Fusiliers in front of them, knowing that they were next in their wake. While under the constant barrage of intense artillery fire, the Borderers went over the top, the carnage continued. That day would see selfless acts of great courage and self-sacrifice from the Borderers. They would be relieved at 1600hrs having sustained 548 casualties.
For those who planned and ordered this attack they were nowhere near the scene. However, if the Commander had been able to hover over the scene for a few seconds, the attack would have been halted. Quote ‘Dummies could have done as well’ Yet, the terrible truth about war once an attack is launched it can rarely be stopped or broken off. Capt Stair Gillon KOSB.
The R.I.F. were slaughtered as they advanced into no mans land. The K.O.S.B. advanced 30 minutes later, they never even reached the ground where the Fusiliers lay, such was the murderous fire from the German MG’s. But still they tried to advance. The fog of war can be cruel – the Germans put up a white flare signal (for whatever reason of their own) which also happened to be the precise signal selected to mark the capture of the Allies first objective. Believing this to be correct as it fitted with the place and time, the Borderers, pushed forward into the slaughter.
To search the collection of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers on The Ogilby Muster, click here.
23rd September 1916
On this day in 1916, the British 4th Army moved to capture the villages of Morval, Guedecour and Lesboufs. Fought between the 25th-28th September, the Battle of Morval saw the British 4th Army inflict huge casualties on the German Army whilst clearing up the objectives unobtained during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
The fighting began at 12:35pm, with British infantry moving forward with the support of a creeping barrage, as well as observation from the Royal Flying Corps.
Involved in the action on that day was Sgt Frederick Josiah Godfrey, of the 1st Bn DCLI. Sgt Godfrey has two diaries on The Ogilby Muster from the collection of Bodmin Keep – Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, detailing his life in the trenches and the movements of the regiment from 1915-1916.
To search the collection and read these diaries, click here.
28th September 1916
“The British Progress Beyond Thiepval”
These were the headlines of newspapers back in Britain.
On this day in 1916, the Battle of Thiepval Ridge came to a close. With German support having been cut off after the success at Morval a few days earlier, a final push ensured that the well-defended strongpoint, (and scene of intense fighting since 1st July), fell mostly into allied hands.
The 5th West Yorks took part in the fighting at the Schwaben Redoubt that day. This clipping is part of the Prince of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment collection.
To search this collection, click here.
10th October 1916
Today we bring you another entry highlighting the key dates for one of the Regiments involved in the offensive…
A Timeline of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at the Battle of the Somme, 1916.
Marking the anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, below is a list of key dates and actions from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry’s involvement in the offensive that ran from 1st July to 18thNovember 1916. This information was compiled by Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum volunteer Steve Berridge, from details recorded in the regimental chronicles.
Many of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire battalions fought on the Somme, including the regular 2nd battalion, the 2/4th, 1/1st and 2/1st Buckinghamshire Territorial battalions, as well as the 5th and 6th Service battalions.
26th May – 2/4th Oxf & Bucks LI and 2/1st Bucks Bn arrived at Havre from England.
1st July – Battle of Albert (first day of the Battle of the Somme); 1/4th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI and 1/1st Bucks Bn. present but in reserve.
17th-18th July – 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion engaged at Ovillers-Pozieres. On the night of the 17th-18th July the Battalion was ordered to carry out a reconnaissance of certain points in the enemy’s line between Ovillers and Pozieres.
19th July – 2/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion heavily engaged in the Battle of Fromelles. 2/4th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI in support.
20th-21st July – 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion Ovillers-Pozieres.
On the night of the 20th-21st July the Battalion was ordered to carry out an attack in conjunction with the 1/5th Gloucesters and 1/4th Oxfords against the enemy positions between Ovillers and Pozieres. “A” “B,” and “C” Company were detailed for the attack, with “D”’ Company in reserve.
22nd/23rd July – Battle of Pozieres; 1/4th and 1/1st Bucks Bn heavily engaged.
30th July – 2nd Bn Oxf & Bucks LI. took part in attack on Guillemont (Near Delville Wood, Somme).
24th August – 5th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI present at capture of Delville Wood.
3rd September – 6th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI – heavily engaged Battle of Guillemont.
15th September – 5th (S) Bn Oxf & Bucks LI present at Gueudecourt, Battle of Flers-Courcellette.
18th September – 6th (S) Bn Oxf & Bucks LI present at Battle of Flers-Courcellette.
7th October – 6th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI engaged in Battle of the Transloy.
13th November – 2nd Bn Oxf & Bucks LI engaged in Battle of the Ancre at Redan Ridge.
To search the collections of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, click here.
14th October 1916
“Today at 2:47pm the battalion with the Black Watch on the right attacked and took the whole of the Redoubt”
On 14th October 1916, an attack spearheaded by 1st Cambridgeshire Regiment brought the last part of the Schwaben Redoubt into Allied hands.
A position heavily-defended by German machine guns and sitting atop the Ancre Valley, the redoubt had proved a source of constant struggle since the first day of fighting on the Battle of the Somme.
Fighting alongside the 4/5th Black Watch and 17th King’s Royal Rifle Corps, the 1st Cambridgeshire took the final part of the Redoubt. Advancing behind the creeping artillery barrage, the men cleared the position, before advancing beyond the Redoubt and rebuffing the German counter attacks.
This diary entry, written by Lt (later Major) H.C. Few of 1st Bn Cambridgeshire regiment, describes the day’s events and is part of the Cambridgeshire Regiment Collection on The Ogilby Muster. To search this collection, click here.
17th October 1916
This map shows the state of play following the Reserve Army’s capture of both the Schwaben and Stuff Redoubts. Pieced together through air photos taken on the 16th October, this shows the strength of the German positions to the north and the Reserve Army pushing on from the south.
The map can be found in the Military Intelligence Museum, click here to search the collection on The Ogilby Muster.
21st October 1916
“My own darling cherished wife…”
This is one of the many letters found on The Ogilby Muster and written by Cpt Thomas Gribble of the 1st Salford Pals. Here, Cpt. Gribble describes the “greatest honour” of being given command of his company towards the end of the Somme Offensive.
However, as winter draws in, the conditions began to play a huge part in the Somme story…
Captain Gribble’s letters are part of the Fusilier Museum collection. To search this collection, click here.
28th October 1916
Today we bring you another entry highlighting the involvement of one of the Regiments involved in the Somme Offensive.
The Sherwood Foresters suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Somme, mostly at Gommecourt. The action took place just north of the main attack as a distraction to the German forces. Three stories that emerged…
“Enemy machine guns were clipping the top of the parapet, or rather where it had been an hour previously. A party of twenty, waiting on foot on the fire step ready to spring over on the word had just made their spring when a burst of machine gun fire caught them” Written by 2nd Lieutenant N.S. Spatcher MC of the 2/5th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters.
Captain John Leslie Green of the Royal Army Medical Corps was attached to the 1/5th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 1st July: Wounded, Captain Green went to rescue a wounded officer who was also tangled up in the barbed wire. Captain Green untangled the officer and dragged him to a shell hole where he saw to the wound, whilst under fire from bombs and rifle grenades. Captain Green was killed when he tried to get the officer to safety.
Captain Richard William Currin served as Acting Lieutenant Colonel, temporarily with the 1/8th Battalion. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions at the Somme: “Captain Currin rescued 80 wounded soldiers from dangerous positions “
The Battle ended on 18th November, 5 months after it had begun. The Sherwood Foresters suffered 80% casualties. The 11th Battalion suffered such great losses it was relieved on the first night.
In total 13 Battalions were involved over 5 months.
To search the collections of the Museum of the Mercian Regiment (WFR Collection), click here.
1st November 1916
The Duke of York’s Royal Military School and the Battle of the Somme
The Duke of York’s Royal Military School can trace its history back more than two hundred years, to 1801, founded by Royal Warrant as the Royal Military Asylum for the Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army, with the first children arriving at the school on 29 August 1803.
At the age of fourteen, the children were discharged from the school, with many of the boys following in their father’s footsteps by enlisting into the army. With the education that they had received at the school, these pupils entered boy service as fully-trained soldiers.
After more than one hundred years in Chelsea, its name changing in 1892 to the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, the school moved to new premises, close to Dover Castle, where the school remains to this day.
At the outbreak of the First World War there was probably not a single regiment or corps in the British Army that did not contain a Dukie, as the pupils of the school were, and still are, known, and there are 112 of the 137 regiments of that time represented on the school’s war memorial having lost their lives during that conflict, the youngest to be killed in action Trumpeter Ivor James, Royal Field Artillery, who died in France on 16 September 1914, a week shy of his sixteenth birthday. Dukies also served in the Territorial Force and the armed Forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
On the first day of the Somme Offensive, 01 July 1916, six Dukies from three different regiments were killed in action, three from The Seaforth Highlanders and one each from the Devonshire Regiment, The South Wales Borderers and The York and Lancaster Regiment. By the end of the offensive on 18 November 1916, a further 30 Dukies from 26 regiments, all but three of which were serving in infantry units, were either killed in action or died of wounds. Two were serving with Territorial Force regiments and one in the South African Infantry. Eight of those who died had attended the school as a result of having fathers who had died on active service in India and South Africa.
Of the 36 who died, only 13 have a known grave, the remainder being commemorated on the memorials to the missing, the majority of these having their names engraved on the Thiepval Memorial.
In addition to the Dukies who died, 31 fathers of future Dukies, from 19 different regiments, were also killed in action or died of wounds during the Somme Offensive, with two of these Dukie sons being killed during the Second World War.
To search the collection of the Duke of York’s Royal Military School on The Ogilby Muster, click here.
4th November 1916
As we near the end of the Somme Offensive, we wanted to share some of the photographs of that period which can be found on the Ogilby Muster.
Clockwise starting from the left top corner:
- 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment (With names on reverse) (Lancashire Infantry Museum Collection)
- The 4th Leaving Longueval (Lancashire Infantry Museum Collection)
- A View of the German Defences (Cambridgeshire Regiment Museum Collection)
- Tank of the Somme (Royal Artillery Museum Collection)
10th November 1916
Jim Beach (University of Northampton) explains an intelligence organisation’s Christmas card sent out after the Battle of the Somme had ended.
This 1916 Christmas card comes from the small, intelligence-related collection of General Sir Walter Kirke’s papers held by the Military Intelligence Museum. Later the commander of Home Forces in 1940, during the First World War he had been head of the I(b) sub-section at GHQ France. Serving in that staff role from the outbreak of war until early 1917, Kirke had been responsible for the army’s espionage and counter-intelligence work on the Western Front.
The card is one of four Christmas cards sent out by GHQ Intelligence; the others being from 1915, probably 1917, and 1918. Except for latter, they were drawn by the noted cartoonist Alan d’Egville. In September 1914 he had joined the army as an interpreter, but was transferred and sent to France two months later as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps. Posted to GHQ in late 1915, d’Egville remained there for much of the war working within the I(a) sub-section to predict enemy intentions. As well as producing the intelligence section’s Christmas cards, his artistic talents were put to good use in drawing German generals for the commander-in-chief.
Presumably disseminated primarily to those with work connections to GHQ Intelligence, the card portrays the organisation’s self-perception at a pivotal moment in the development of the intelligence system. Its illustrations portray the Central Powers in comedic form and point to some countries’ recent military reverses. Anticlockwise from the top, we see an Ottoman with threadbare trousers dropping his knife and running away. The goose-stepping Austro-Hungarian soldier has also abandoned his weapon and has his back to the enemy. Next comes the German Kaiser with a patched cloak and his son the Crown Prince. The latter’s discarded champagne bottle alludes to his notorious playboy lifestyle. The king of Bulgaria is then followed by a square-headed depiction of Paul von Hindenburg, who had assumed command of Germany’s armies that summer.
The central feature of the card is an ancient symbol signifying godlike omniscience. The caption makes a homophonous play upon the letter i which was then used by the army as an abbreviation for intelligence. Its none-too-subtle implication is that GHQ Intelligence, and by implication the wider British intelligence system, was all-seeing and all-knowing.
However, this internal propaganda message was rather at odds with the realities of December 1916. Across the previous year, the BEF’s intelligence system had struggled to discern what was happening on the other side of No Man’s Land. For example, when the Somme began GHQ held a false datum point for the number of divisions in Germany’s Western Front reserve, and that misperception persisted until the autumn. Partly this was caused by a general collapse of agent networks in occupied Belgium, but other forms of intelligence collection were also still maturing.
Drawing upon the hard experiences of the Somme, across the winter of 1916/1917 additional reforms were enacted, such as the creation of divisional intelligence posts and reforms to the system that intercepted German trench telephones. Additional resources were also directed towards other types of signals intelligence as well as air photography. But these changes had not flowed through in time to prevent GHQ Intelligence from mis-reading Germany’s strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917. Which is somewhat ironic given that their Christmas card included Hindenburg holding his plan in full view of their all-seeing eye.
To explore the collection of the Military Intelligence Museum, please click here.
15th November 1916
On 13th November, the final thrust of the Somme Offensive began. With the weather worsening as the winter drew in, General Haig realised that one final push north of the River Ancre would give the British a favourable position over the New Year. This map highlights the operations of 63rd Division, who provided a large part of the drive at Beaumont Hamel. If successful, the 63rd’s advance would enable the North side of the River with the attack to the South, moving towards Grandcourt.
The attack was prepared for with a seven day artillery bombardment similar to, (but more successful than), the bombardment preceding the first attacks on 1st July. Despite heavy machine gun fire, the 63rd broke through from the South, with the 51st Scots Division coming in from the West.
The map forms part of the official report of the 63rd Divisions actions between 13th and 15th November 1916. The report is part of the Isle of Wight Collections Office collection on The Ogilby Muster. To search the collection, click here.
18th November 1916
The Battle of the Somme came to an end on 18th November 1916. A combination of a freezing winter drawing in, awful conditions underfoot, and a heavy death toll swayed General Haig to call a halt.
The offensive is remembered for many reasons, from the first use of tanks and the deployment of the Reserve Army to its immense influence on war literature and popular memory of the Great War.
However, despite often being regarded as a tactical victory for the Allied Forces, the Battle of the Somme is notorious for the enormous human sacrifice that came with it. In four months of fighting, the Allied Forces advanced six miles in return for 450,000 British and 200,000 French casualties.
This map showing the German lines at the start and end of the Somme offensive can be found in the Manchester Regiment Collection on The Ogilby Muster. Click here to search this collection.