Centenary of The Battle of the Somme

Words by:
Gary Trown
Featured in:
July 2016

On 4th August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany and Austria, allied to one another through a treaty and known as The Central Powers, mobilising her small army of around 400,000 regular and territorial battalions that included five battalions from Lincolnshire.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions were all regular army men with the 4th and 5th being territorials, or Saturday night soldiers as they were often called. Over the next four years Lincolnshire and its communities would more than play its part in a conflict so savage in its intensity that it affected almost every home in the country.

As we approach the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July to 18th November 1916, it is time to remember an offensive that lasted 141 days, which saw the German army inflict enormous casualties on the British Army (58,000 on the first day alone), with many of these in the first few hours. Fielding twenty-seven divisions (750,000 men) against a German army thought to number sixteen divisions, the commander-in-chief, Douglas Haig, pitted amongst these seven Lincolnshire battalions totalling around 4,000 county men.

Of the seven Lincolnshire regiments that took part, three were newly formed at the outbreak of the war, the 7th and 8th battalions being part of K2 (2nd 500,000) and K3 (3rd 500,000 that came forward to enlist) of Kitchener’s New Armies formed in Lincoln in September 2014. The 10th Battalion was formed in Grimsby in September at the behest of the Mayor and townsfolk.

General Haigh had agreed with General Joffre of the French High Command in conference at Chantilly in mid-December 1915 to open a joint offensive with the French army. Haigh was to later record in his diary that the plan had three main objectives.
1. Relieve the pressure on the French army that at the time of record was sustaining enormous losses at the battle of Verdun.
2. Stop any further transfer of the German Army to other theatres of war, namely the eastern front.
3. Wear down the strength of the opposing forces, the latter being the German front line that was to be attacked as soon as possible. Months of preparations began in earnest, with huge amounts of men and munitions being amassed on a daily scale.

And so the scene was set. The area chosen was to be a sector in the northern region of Picardy in France where history already recognised the advantages held by the defender at the time, the German Army, which benefitted from establishing its defensive network on higher ground. The battlefield itself was of a chalk composition thus allowing the Germans to dig exceptionally deep fortifications; an undulating landscape with numerous woods and villages that augmented the entire defensive network that had been cleverly constructed and where swift counter attacks could be quickly delivered. The battle would be fought along a northwest to southeast line and would forever be known as The Battle of the Somme.

After months of secretive preparations 24th June saw an eight day barrage of unprecedented intensity commence with 1437 guns of varying size and firepower. The 1.73 million shells fired were concentrated along a front in excess of 21km, its aim to completely destroy the German front line defences, including the many lines of barbed wire, to leave the way open for an advance that anticipated the total annihilation of the enemy.

Writing in his diary on 30th June General Douglas Haigh recorded: ‘The men are in splendid spirits, several have said that they have never been so instructed and informed of the nature of the operations before them. The wire has never been so well cut, nor the artillery preparations so thorough.’

Sadly the truth was to be so very different.

Attacking from Gommecourt in the north to Maricourt in the south, Lincolnshire Regiments were to play their part in a plan that was widely expected to break the deadlock on the Western Front after stalemate between the two belligerents had set in, in late winter of 1914.

Zero hour, 1st July, 7.30am, with the waiting over, whistles were blown the entire length of the line and for those men of the seven Lincolnshire Regiments chosen to be in the first wave assaulting the German positions, the waiting was over. They climbed steadily out of their trenches and into no man’s land. The order was given that all ranks should take a steady walk across the open fields in extended line formation. They had been assured there would be no survivors or resistance.

Realising that the barrage had lifted from over their heads, the shell-shocked Germans sheltering in deep dugouts, some as deep as thirty metres and impervious to shell fire, dragged themselves to the surface. With shattered nerves, stretched beyond breaking point, having endured starvation and thirst over the previous seven days and nights, they watched with impunity as the long line of empire men came towards them at a gentle pace. Taking the chance to vent their anger and frustration they began a devastating field of fire resulting in wholesale slaughter, with casualties starting to occur and rise immediately.

46th division – Gommecourt

Of the seven Lincolnshire regiments that took part, three were newly formed at the outbreak of the war, the 7th and 8th battalions being part of K2 (2nd 500,000) and K3 (3rd 500,000 that came forward to enlist) of Kitchener’s New Armies formed in Lincoln in September 2014. The 10th Battalion was formed in Grimsby in September at the behest of the Mayor and townsfolk.

8th Division and 25th Infantry
Brigade – Ovillers

The 2nd battalion of the Lincolns found themselves in the centre of their sector and opposite the German stronghold of Ovillers. Despite losing many men as they crossed no man’s land from enfilade fire on their left, they nevertheless managed to get in and capture about 200 yards of the German front line where they held on heroically for a number of hours until having used all their ammunition and in the face of strong counter-attacks had to retire back to the safety of their won lines. For their brave deeds the 2nd battalion suffered 532 casualties.

34th Division and 101st Brigade – La Boiselle
Further down the line and immediately on the right of the 2nd Lincolns at La Boisselle were the 10th Lincolns or better known as ‘The Grimsby Chums’, who blew a huge mine beneath the German lines at 7.28am. They received orders to delay their assault until five minutes after the mine was blown, thus giving the Germans time to man their machine guns and further compounded the difficulties the 2nd Lincoln were to face. Advancing in four straight lines it was a matter of minutes before the Germans found their range and opened fire and once more casualties began to fall. Powerless to make any real progress many men of Lincolnshire lay down in shell holes and waited for a chance to retire. Despite their gallant efforts 507 casualties were sustained.

62nd Brigade (1st Lincolns) and 63rd Brigade (8th Lincolns)
Fricourt and the furthest sector south of the Somme sector saw the 1st battalion of the Lincolns held in reserve whilst the 8th Lincolns would support the Somerset Light Infantry. Once the first objective had been taken the 8th Lincolns were to advance to their given objective. Once more the crossing of no man’s land resulted in heavy casualties but pushing on the 8th Lincolns did manage to penetrate and consolidate their objective despite attempts by German opposition to dislodge them. Holding on they were eventually relieved. Meanwhile just after midday, the 1st Lincolns had left the security of their trenches and were used as a carrying party taking munitions up to the captured German line, all the while being swept by German machine gun fire to the rear. Further orders received saw them support the 64th Brigade by way of digging blown in German lines. For all their heroic deeds the 1st Lincolns recorded a casualty list of 119 men and 8th Lincolns 248.

17th Division and 51st Brigade – Mametz/Fricourt
Initially held back in reserve the 7th Battalion of the Lincoln were ordered up to the front at Fricourt very late in the day, relieving the Dorsets. Still holding their position on 2nd July they were heavily shelled suffering fourteen casualties. The 7th Lincolns went on to distinguish themselves during the next few days fighting in and around the Fricourt sector. Battalion casualties for 1st July are not known but between 1st and 4th July, 214 casualties were recorded.

Later, roll calls taken amongst the ranks in the aftermath of that disastrous day show that of the seven battalions of Lincolnshire men involved approximately 1,668 were either killed in action, wounded or missing, around forty per cent of the total strength of county men involved.

The Lincolns had proudly done their duty and continued to serve in various theatres of the conflict until the end of the war in November 1918.

The Royal British Legion has launched a limited edition Poppy Pin to mark the centenary of The Battle of the Somme. 19,240 Somme 100 pins have been produced, one for each soldier killed on the first day of the battle. The gold coloured pins are made from the brass of melted down shells found on the Somme battlefields and the prominent red centre paint has been mixed with soil handpicked from the fields.

Each pin comes with a certificate detailing specifics of the individual soldier it helps commemorate.

You can purchase the Somme 100 Pin (£39.95) or Somme 100 Cufflinks (£79.99) from The Poppy Shop www.poppyshop.org.uk

A huge outdoor spectacular will take place in the centre of Lincoln on Saturday 16th July to mark the 100th anniversary of the invention of the first tank in the city and its deployment during WWI.

As part of the WW1 centenary commemorations, the Department for Education in conjunction with the Department for Communities and Local Government will pay for one teacher and two pupils from every state funded secondary school in the UK to take part in one of the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours. If your school has so far not taken up the opportunity you can find further details at: www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org.

If you have any specific queries, please contact the Project team on: +44 (0)20 7331 5156 or ww1enquiries@ioe.ac.uk

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: www.doddingtonhall.com/event/young-sculptor-exhibition/To apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to angus@doddingtonhall.com ... See MoreSee Less