The Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916) was a joint operation between the British and French intended to deliver a decisive victory over the Germans on the Western Front. For many in Britain, the resulting battle remains the most painful and infamous episode of the First World War.
In December 1915, Allied commanders had agreed to launch a joint attack on the Somme, in the summer of 1916. Intense German pressure on the French at Verdun throughout 1916 made action on the Somme increasingly urgent and meant the British would take on the main role in the offensive.
The German defences had been carefully prepared over many months. Despite a seven-day bombardment prior to the attack on 1 July, the British did not achieve the quick breakthrough that had been anticipated and the Somme became a deadlocked battle of attrition.
Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of seven miles. More than one million men from all sides were killed, wounded or captured. British casualties on the first day – numbering over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed – making it the bloodiest day in British military history.
The Allied offensive on the Somme was a strategic necessity fought to meet the needs of an international alliance. British commanders learned difficult but important lessons on the Somme that would contribute to eventual Allied victory in 1918.
The Worcestershire Regiment on the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916
Between July and November 1916, eight Battalions of The Worcestershire Regiment saw heavy fighting on the Somme. Six of them were in action on the fateful 1st July 1916 these were: 1st; 3rd; 4th; 1/7th; 1/8th and 10th. They were later joined by the 2nd and the 14th Battalions.
Regimental casualties on 1st July 1916 were recorded as 102. A further 613 were killed in action during the period July to November, with other casualties recorded as an additional 3090 wounded and 519 men missing.
The Regiment was subsequently awarded the following battle honours:
The Somme (1st July – 18th Nov) Pozières (23rd July – 3rd Sept) Albert (1st July – 13th July) Le Transloy (1st Oct – 18th Oct) Bazentin (14th July – 17th July) Ancre Heights (1st Oct – 11th Nov) Delville Wood (15th July – 3rd Sept) Ancre (13th Nov – 18th Nov)
During the five months of fighting on the Somme, the Regiment was accorded a total of 50 Honours and Gallantry awards. These included: two Victoria Crosses; awarded to Lt. E.P. Bennett of 2nd Battalion for his actions at Transloy Ridge on 5th November 1916, and Pte T.G. Turrall of 10th Battalion for his actions at La Boisselle on 3rd July 1916; 7 Distinguished Service Orders; 17 Military Crosses; 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals; and 4 Military Medals.
Capt. Eugene Paul Bennett VC
Private Thomas Turrall wining his VC at La Boisselle
“The Worcesters at High Wood”: a watercolour by Lt. Col. G.S. Hutchinson