The Somme


This page recalls the eleven Ewell men who died during the Battle for the Somme during the First World War. It is estimated that 400,000 men, from all sides, died in this one battle alone.

BACKGROUND TO THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME

British infantry Morval 25 September 1916
British infantry Morval 25 September 1916
Image Source Wikipedia (opens in a new window)

The Great War commenced on the 4 August 1914. Britain had sent a small but highly trained force of 100,000 volunteer regulars to help France and to save "poor little Belgium" from the invading German army. This army became known as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

The BEF was vastly outnumbered and suffered heavy losses whilst carrying out a fighting retreat, falling back from Mons in Belgium to Le Cateau in France. Here they held the Germans back from reaching Paris long enough for the British and French to mount a counter-offensive at the battle of the Marne. The Germans were then pushed back to the River Aisne. Deadlock on the Aisne caused the opposing armies to try to outflank each other in the so-called "race to the sea". Both sides started to dig defensive positions to protect themselves from shells and bullets, and the trench war was started. By October the first battle of Ypres had commenced. Ypres, or 'Wipers' as it became known to British troops, was to be the centre of much bitter fighting throughout the entire war. By now the first territorial soldiers had started to arrive, the London Scottish being the first.

Kitchener - Your Country Needs You PosterLord Kitchener had been amongst the first to realise that many more men would be needed. and started a recruitment campaign using this famous '"pointing finger" poster. The campaign was very successful and by the end of 1914 1,000,000 men had signed up, or 'taken the King's shilling'. These men were to form the bulk of the fighting force in the first Somme battle. Initially all they had was patriotism and enthusiasm, with very little else. Everything was in short supply: accommodation, uniforms, boots and of course weapons. What was also in very short supply was fighting experience, or any kind of military discipline. These men were civilians who had volunteered to fight for King and Country, and would need many months of intensive training before they would become a fighting force to be reckoned with.

Throughout 1915 there were numerous battles, gradually becoming larger and larger. Battles like Neuve Chapelle, the Second battle of Ypres, Aubers Ridge, and Loos. In all these battles the British armies were hampered by a shortage of ammunition.

The Somme offensive was first mooted at a conference of Allied commanders at Chantilly on 6 December 1915. The French General, Joffre, selected the Somme area because that is where the British and French front lines met.

Click to enlarge.  Map of the Somme battlefield, 1916, showing the frontline before the three major offensives of 1 and 14 July and 15 September as well as the final front line at the end of the battle of 18 November
Click image to enlarge this map of the Somme
battlefield, 1916, showing the frontline before
the three major offensives of 1 and 14 July and
15 September as well as the final front line at
the end of the battle of 18 November
Image Source Wikipedia (opens in a new window)

General Haig was not appointed Commander in Chief until 19 December 1915, and although he went along with the decision to attack on the Somme, he would have preferred to attack further north in Flanders. However, before any major offensive could be mounted, the ammunition shortage had to be addressed, and it would not be until the end of June 1915 that sufficient ammunition would be available, and indeed sufficient trained troops.

The French were to have taken the biggest role in the attack, but events at Verdun in 1916 changed this. In February the Germans decided to "bleed France white" by attacking Verdun. Verdun had no strategic importance but was psychologically very important to France. Its loss would have been a great blow to French morale, and they defended it "to the last man". The resulting drain on their manpower meant that they were unable to take the principal role in the coming battle.

With French losses mounting at Verdun it became increasingly urgent to open another front to relieve them. The original date for the commencement of the Somme battle was 29 June 1916, and the artillery bombardment commenced five days before that. However, bad weather delayed the start for two days, allowing an extra two days of bombardment. This was intended to eliminate the German defence and destroy the barbed wire, but in many places this did not succeed. The British Army went "over the top" at 7.30am on Saturday 1 July 1916 on a perfect, sunny summer's day. The "Big Push" had started.

The Battle of the SOMME lasted for 142 days from the 1st July to 19th November 1916. The battle front was about 25 miles long, 18 attacked by British forces and 7 in the south by the French. The British offensive can be looked at as a series of smaller battles, the chronology being shown below.

CHRONOLOGY
July  
1 - 13 Battle of Albert
1 Capture of Montauban
1 Capture of Mametz
2 Capture of Fricourt
2 - 4 Capture of La Boisselle
3 Capture of Bernafay wood
7 - 11 Mametz Wood
10 Capture of Contalmaison
7 - 13 Fighting in Trônes Wood
14 - 17 Battle of Bazentine Ridge
14 Capture of Trônes Wood
14 - 18 & 29 Capture of Longueval
15 to 3 Sep Battle of Delville Wood
17 Capture of Ovillers
20 - 30 Attacks on High Wood
23 to 13 Sep Battle of Pozières Ridge
27 - 28 Capture of Delville Wood
August  
6 to 3 Sep Fighting for Mouquet Farm
8 - 9 Attack on Waterlot Farm
September  
3 - 6 Battle of Guillemont
9 Battle of Ginchy
14 Capture of Wonder Work
15 - 22 Battle of Flers-Courcelette
15 Capture of Flers
15 Capture of High Wood
15 Capture of Martinpuich
25 - 28 Battle of Morval
25 Capture of Lesboeufs
26 Battle of Thiepval Ridge
26 Capture of Combles
26 Capture of Grid Trench
26 Capture of Gueudecourt
26 Capture of Mouquet Farm
October  
1 - 18 Battle of Transloy Ridges
1 to 11 Nov Battle of Ancre Heights
1 - 3 Capture of Eaucourt l'Abbaye
7 Capture of Le Sars
7 to 5 Nov Attack on Butte de Warlencourt
9 Capture of Stuff Redoubt
14 Capture of Schwaben Redoubt
21 Capture of Regina Trench
21 Capture of Stuff Trench
November  
3 - 11 Battle of Ancre Heights
13 Capture of Beaumont Hamel
14 Capture of Beaucourt
13 - 19 Battle of the Ancre

However, hostilities did not suddenly or completely stop on 19th November. Artillery, sniping and trench raids, continued on both sides, albeit on a smaller more random scale, throughout the war. The reality is that hostilities on the Western front never fully ceased, with the possible exception of the first Christmas truce, till the armistice came into effect at 11am on the 11th of the 11th month of 1918.

In the early days of the War, very few people foresaw how long it might last or the huge loss of life that was to occur. Many perceived it as a great adventure which would probably be over by Christmas. This of course was not to be. By the end of the war 750,000 British men had been killed, 150,000 of them on the Somme. The first day of the battle recorded the highest number of casualties ever suffered by the British army on a single day, some 60,000, and of those some 20,000 had been killed.

Many who "went over the top" and died were 'Pals' from the same neighbourhood who had joined up together in the same regiments and died together. These losses caused great suffering in their home areas with many streets mourning the loss of its sons.

Soldiers killed were often buried near where they fell, in small cemeteries scattered across the whole battlefield area. After the war the mammoth task of clearing the battlefields began so that the land could be returned to farmland, and for permanent cemeteries and memorials to the missing to be built. The French and Belgian Governments donated all the land for these.

Stretcher bearers Battle of Thiepval Ridge September 1916
Stretcher bearers Battle of Thiepval Ridge September 1916
Image Source Wikipedia (opens in a new window) (opens in a new window)

During the 1920s the battlefields were searched for bodies, which were exhumed and laid to rest in one of these permanent cemeteries. Throughout the Somme Department there are some 242 cemeteries ranging from small battlefield cemeteries such as Hunter's at Beaumont Hamel with 46 burials, to Serre Road No2 with 7,139 burials. Although the main clearances were carried out during the 1920s, Serre Road No 2 was not finished until 1934. Even today clearance is not finished, as every year the remains of soldiers are found by farmers in the fields or during road building or construction work. Each is exhumed, and every effort made to identify the remains before reburial.

Thiepval War Memorial, Copyright image courtesy of Cive GilbertExact Somme casualty figures will never be known but around 150,000 British were killed, 66,000 French and 180,000 Germans.

The Thiepval memorial was built on a ridge overlooking the river Ancre. Designed by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens it commemorates the 1916 Battle of the Somme, and especially the 73,367 men who had been killed but had no known grave. The names are of those killed up to 20 March 1918.

Over 14,000 men with no known grave killed on the Somme after this date are commemorated on the nearby Pozières memorial.

The massive 150 feet high structure of red brick and stone, which dominates the countryside for miles around, is carried on sixteen massive pillars, four at each corner. On each of the sixteen pillars the names of the missing are carved in stone, in regimental order.

The cemetery behind the great monument holds the remains of 300 British soldiers and 300 French soldiers, buried in adjacent plots to represent the loss of both the French and Commonwealth nations.

The introduction to the register, published in the 1930s, says of those commemorated here:

" A few will be found and identified as the woods are cleared, or when the remaining tracts of devastated land are brought under the plough. Many more are already buried in the larger British cemeteries of the Somme, but as unidentified. To the great majority this memorial stands for grave and headstone, and this register for as proud a record as that for any grave."



The eleven Ewell men that died at the Battle of the Somme were:
Blanchett PT
Cook HJH
Cook KWBR
Glover AE
Higgins ML
Mason IN
Neville ET
Oldridge JA
Sparrow H
Whiskerd GW
Williams HE

This article was researched and written by Clive Gilbert, 2006


You may also be interested in our war memorials page.

If you want to visit the battlefields of the Somme, and are in need of B&B accommodation, you could do no better than stay with Kate and Martin Pegler. Their hospitality is second to none and is administered from a large old farmhouse in the village of Combles. Kate and Martin are both students of the Great War, Martin being the author of books on sniping, the Somme and the British Tommy. The Pegler's have both provided valuable input into this site. Their web site can be found at www.orchardfarmsomme.com

War Memorials
War Memorials
Blanchett P
Blanchett P
Cook H
Cook H
Cook K
Cook K
Glover A
Glover A
Higgins M
Higgins M
Mason I
Mason I
Neville E
Neville E
Oldridge J
Oldridge J
Sparrow H
Sparrow H
Whiskered G
Whiskerd G
Williams H
Williams H