The Battle of the Somme, 1916
Fought between July and November 1916, the Battle of the Somme was one of the defining events of the First World War.
The Somme offensive was planned as the major Allied effort on the Western Front for 1916, but the start of a desperate battle between French and German forces at Verdun meant that the British Army assumed the main role.
After an intense, week-long artillery bombardment of German positions, the infantry began their advance at 7.30am on the clear midsummer’s morning of 1 July 1916.
Whilethere were some gains to the south, in the north the attacking troops struggled to overcome formidable defences, many of which had survived the artillery barrage. By the end of the first day, some 57,000 Commonwealth and 2,000 French soldiers had become casualties – more than 19,000 of whom had been killed.
The offensive continued over the following months, and men from every part of Britain and across the Empire took part. Both sides committed huge quantities of manpower and munitions to the struggle.
When the offensive was halted in November, more than 1,000,000 Commonwealth, French and German soldiers had been wounded, captured, or killed.
The CWGC Thiepval Memorial
Commemorating the dead
Today, the cemeteries and memorials built and cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) portray the human cost of the battle, and of the fighting that took place across the Somme battlefields throughout the war.
Some 150,000 Commonwealth servicemen lie buried in 250 military and 150 civilian cemeteries on the Somme. More than 100,000 more were never found or identified. They are not forgotten, but are remembered by name on six memorials to the missing for those whose graves are not known.
The Thiepval Memorial – The Memorial to the missing of the Somme
The Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world. It commemorates more than 72,000 men who died in the Somme sector between 1915 and March 1918, more than 90 percent of them during the 1916 battle.
The 45 metre high monument stands on a ridge just south of Thiepval village – a heavily fortified German position on the Somme front in 1916. The brick superstructure has 16 stone piers. Each pier has panelled faces and on those panels are inscribed the names of the dead. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of three principal architects employed by the War Graves Commission after the war. Work on the memorial began in 1928, and it was unveiled on 1 August 1932 by Edward, Prince of Wales.
The Thiepval Memorial is both a memorial to the missing and a monument commemorating the enduring alliance between the British Empire and France. Beside the memorial is a cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves, brought together from all over the Somme battlefield.
For more information about the work of the CWGC, and the Thiepval Memorial, please visit: www.cwgc.org