Today (July 1) 100 years ago thousands of soldiers took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the biggest attack during the Great War.
That first encounter on the battlefield was the worst day in the history of the British army, which saw around 58,000 soldiers killed, injured or go missing.
Most of the casualties were between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line.
The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force and Kitchener’s Army, which was composed of Pals battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.
The complete Battle of the Soome took place between July 1 and November 18 1916 on both sides of upper reaches of the River Somme in France.
The following is a letter that was reproduced in the County Times in August 1916 which provides an insight into the battle.
There will never be a man want to go to war after what they have seen out here this last few weeks
It is from Corporal F. Lloyd, of the Royal Field Artillery, to his wife at 78 East Street, Horsham, dated July 29 as the battle was still raging.
“We are so busy now we have to turn out all hours of the night and day to take shells up to the guns, as we are firing thousands.
“You can guess where I am if you read the papers and see the different villages we captured. I say ‘villages’ but to tell the truth it is only where the villages used to be, as there are only piles of broken bricks now.
“This is a big battle. I have never heard anything like it before, guns and nothing else but guns; the earth trembles with them and the air shrieks with shells. There will never be a man want to go to war after what they have seen out here this last few weeks. The Germans were dug in the ground dozens of feet deep, it’s a wonder we ever moved them. It is a sight round here; I can’t describe it by writing... especially of a night time, the whole front one mass of flame; one would never believe that men could live under it, but they do, and stick it well.
“Britain should feel proud of such men. Only those here know what it is, but it is British pluck, and it will win.
“Our chaps keep bringing in prisoners, as they say they can’t put up with the artillery fire, it drives them mad. Hundreds of them would ‘chuck it’, only they can’t get the chance.
“I passed some German prisoners when I was going up to our guns the other night, they looked completely broken up. Never did they think we had such an army.
“I am sorry to say we have had several chaps wounded; it can’t be helped in a fight like this. I have seen some bad sights, but the men bear the pain well...
“Our Division got mentioned in Army orders of the day for a brilliant attack our infantry made with the help of their artillery, which includes our battery. I feel proud of that you know.”