Uncle William

Lieutenant William Ellis Gomersall

The Battle of the Somme

For months prior to July 1916. massive preparations were being made for the "Great Push". Munitions were being manufactured on a colossal scale in England,  the artillery bombardment technology had to be massively improved before any attempt at an infantry advance toward the German trenches could be considered. So there was a long period of stalemate, of waiting, in the first 6 months of 1916. People were well aware that the Germans would also be busy reinforcing their munitions and personnel and strengthening their defences during this time.

On 24th June 1916 Sir Douglas Haig announced the commencement of intense artillery bombardment of the German positions in the Somme area. This continued with enormous ferocity day and night for an entire week.

 Bray-Sur-Somme was in allied territory just south of the front line, and this was where a whole British division had amassed prepared to advance to the front line. The German front line ran through a little valley 3 miles north of Bray, passing through Mametz and Fricourt. Overnight of the 30th June the troops had moved to the front line.

The Big Push started at 7:30 a.m. on 1st July 1916. The men leaped out of the trenches under heavy machine gun fire, and pressed forward despite unbelievable loss of life.  Despite the earlier intense artillery bombardment, there were several points where the German defences were still intact, and their machine guns were deadly. One such trench was at Mametz, called "Danzig Avenue". This trench was ultimately cleared successfully by the Manchesters and the Gordon Highlanders, but with enormous loss of life. By the evening the villages of Mametz and Montauban were in British hands.

Fricourt  and La Boiselle were taken on 2nd July, with dreadful casualties. By 10th July the capture of Contelmaison marked the end of the first phase of the battle. The first line of German defences had been captured over a front of 14,000 yards.

The second German line had been captured by 5th August. In September the French joined the British in attacking Combles.  Tanks were used for the first time ever. By the end of September the 3rd line was taken. In October parts of the German 4th line were taken. The battle of the Somme ceased on 13th November with the capture of Beaucourt. The Allies lost 600,000 men, the Germans lost 450,000.

One of the main objectives of the Somme campaign was to relieve Verdun.  This was successful, and the Germans had been forced to retreat to the Hindenburg line. Their morale was depleted seriously, and this battle is often regarded as the turning point of the war for the Allies.