Tracing Military Ancestors
The Somme – A Brief History
The titanic struggle that took place across the rolling farmland and scattered woodland of Picardy in 1916 was one of the defining chapters in the history of the First World War. Alongside the Brusilov offensive in the east and the Battle of Verdun, it stands as the epitome of the war as a grinding, brutal struggle of raw courage and patriotism pitted against the industrialised means to cause death and injury on a colossal scale.
However, whilst the Battle of the Somme lasted for four and half months, its central place in the British national consciousness is due to one day alone – the 1st July 1916, the first day of the offensive. For it was in the early hours of the 1st July that the British Army suffered the worst single day's loss of life of any army in modern military history. The scale of this tragedy is such that it has inevitably and, in many ways understandably, overshadowed many other important events and developments in the battle, which go a long way to explaining the later course of the war. In particular, the increasing effectiveness and destructive power of the British artillery, the growing tactical expertise of the British and Dominion infantry and the arrival of the tank, were all to become key factors in final victory over Germany.