For on July 1, 1916, following a seven-day British bombardment, some 120,000 men clambered from their trenches and went ‘over the top’ — to be met by a hail of German machine-gun fire that mowed down half of them. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded, it was the bloodiest single day in British military history.
Relaxing before the carnage: Heartbreaking photos of our troops on the eve of the Somme 100 years ago shortly before they went 'over the top' on the bloodiest single day in British military history. The weeks leading up to the bloodiest battle in British history were gentle, compared with the horror that followed.
Rolling countryside north of River Somme was home to more than a million British servicemen, mainly volunteers. Haunting photographs from 100 years ago show the men relaxing, released to mark the centenary of the WWI battle. But the lush, green, springtime lands would shortly be turned into a muddy moonscape by the horrifying conflict.
By NIGEL BLUNDELL FOR THE DAILY MAIL
A welcome rest: Exhausted soldiers of the 9th Rifle Brigade take a break — and a chance to have a smoke — in a field away from the front line. From left, Second Lieutenant Walter Elliott, who was killed on November 20, 1916, Second Lieutenant Roger Kirkpatrick, wounded (date unknown), Captain Herbert Garton, who was killed on September 15, 1916, Lieutenant Evelyn Southwell, killed on September 15, 1916, and Second Lieutenant Herman Kiek, wounded on April 27, 1918. Southwell told his mother in a letter he was so tired he fell asleep while marching
A chance to wash: Officers of the 9th Rifle Brigade bathing in a stream behind the lines are (from left, excluding obscured faces): Captain Arthur Mckinstry — wounded, Second Lieutenant William Hesseltine, killed August 21, 1916, Captain William Purvis, wounded September 15, 1916, Second Lieutenant Joseph Buckley, killed December 23, 1917, Lieutenant Morris Heycock, wounded August 22, 1916, Captain Eric Parsons, killed September 15, 1916, Second Lieutenant Sidney Smith (in background) killed August 25, 1916, and Second Lieutenant Walter Elliott, killed November 20, 1916
Knee-deep in mud: Wading through a trench on the Somme are Major Beauchamp Magrath (left) of the 8th East Lancashire Regiment, killed on June 2, 1916, and Captain Paul Hammond, right, who died on February 25, 1916. The other two soldiers are not identified.
As you can see here, the water and mud were horrific - Granddad was lucky to survive with both his legs.
Captain William Johnson, of the 18th Manchester Regiment, was photographed by a friend on the afternoon of July 1, 1916, walking along a captured German trench. He was killed six hours later
For more photos and information, here is the full article
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, or the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.
As a PS - here are Grandma and Granddad on their wedding day in December 1920
And this is their Golden Wedding Anniversary ... and yes, that's the rest of the family in 1970! (I was 9)
Mum, Tim, Me (!), Grandma, Granddad, Nick, Dad