As the intelligence was sifted through and the reports compiled it was soon apparent that the 1st July 1916 had been an unprecedented disaster. North of the Albert-Bapaume road to as far as Gommecourt the battle was effectively over in a matter of few hours, and in some cases a matter of minutes. What was left of the attacking units were back in their starting trenches by the end of the day.
The minor successes were in the south, around Fricout, Mametz and units reaching Montauban. Even these came at high price, the 8th Bn. East Surrey’s casualties of around 30% was typical. Elsewhere, the casualties figures in individual battalions was far higher. The roll calls made were a pitiful and depressing experience as the few survivors heard name after name go unanswered.
The estimated casualties of the British Army on the 1st July 1916 were 19,240 men killed, 2,152 were missing and another 35,593 were wounded. A total of 57,740.
Charles Edward Gibbs, 1st Bn. Border Regiment, had survived the day, he was most likely one the “10%” held back on the day. But the 2nd July brought little rest as the remnants of 1st Border Regiment relieved the 9th Royal Irish Rifles just north of the River Ancre at 10am; they immediately are set to work on repairing the trenches, which had suffered severely by the previous day’s bombardment. At 2:30pm parties are sent out to bring in the wounded and dead of the Royal Irish Rifles who lay in front of our line. This continues intermittently all day and during the night. The enemy continually snipes at the rescue parties. So few officers are let that 2nd Lieut. R.G. Cullis is promoted to Lieut. and Acting Adjutant.
The scale of the casualties had overwhelmed the medical service adding to the suffering of the men along the entire evacuation chain from “Regimental Aid Posts” to “Dressing Stations”, “Ambulance Trains” and “Base Hospitals”.
Diary Page of Fred G. Ainge a stretcher bearer attached to the 29th Division on 1st July 1916.
June 16.Hem to Arqueves.
Preparing for big attack.
June 30. Left for Trenches 9 p.m. Arr. Englebelmer 12 p.m. Heavy Shelling. Att. 29th Div.
July 1st Dawn. Big Attack all along the line. Food scarce.
July 2. Many dead and & wounded. Awful bombardment still on. Working day & night.
July 3. Colonel & Capt. Thomason wounded. Casualties in Amb. about 15. No luck on our Section. Newfoundland’s got an auful cutting up. German M. guns waiting for them. Terrible sights. Dead & wounded galore.
July 4. Thunderstorm. Dug-outs flooded. Wet Through. Left Trenches 11 p.m. for
Many wounded had laid out in the open for hours, and even days. Numerous acts of heroism, both recorded and unrecorded, occurred as attempts to rescue the wounded under fire were made all along the Somme front.
Pte. 22678 Sidney Lawrence Dann, 1st Bn. Border Regiment, born Balham, family home Colliers Wood, suffered a compound fracture of his left leg due to gunshot wounds on 1st July 1916. He had been transferred to Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot by 6th July 1916 but died of complications on 21st July 1916. He was buried at Church Road Cemetery, Mitcham, on 26th July 1916. Like, Isaiah Lemon, Sidney Dann had first joined the East Surreys when he volunteered on 6th September 1914 and was in the same group of men transferred to the Border Regiment late in 1915.
Charles Lemon, brother of Isaiah Lemon killed as Y-Ravine, was in the Machine Gun Corps and his 14th Company MGC were positioned near Authuille Wood on the 1st July supporting the attack of the 1st Dorsets and 2nd Manchesters, not far from Lt. Henry Stewart Jackson and the 8th KOYL.
Charles Lemon was an ex. East Surrey man, a pre-war regular and a veteran of Hill 60 from April 1915, and all his instincts were to try to the save lives of wounded men. The part Charles Lemon played on 1st July 1916 become public knowledge when his story was reported in the local press much later in 1917.
Official notice of his Military Medal first appeared in the London Gazette on 21st October 1916 to:
There was no thought of halting the Somme offensive on the 2nd July 1916, there may have been some shuffling of the pack of senior commanders, but there was no time for major recriminations. The offensive was set to grind on until 18th November 1916.
Frederick Buckland’s war came to an end when he was killed in action on the Somme in unknown circumstances on 19th September 1916, somewhere near Bazentin-le-Grand, France. He was buried in the cemetery at Bottom Wood, just over a mile from where he died. Frederick’s remains would not be recovered until after the War, Bottom Wood was lost in the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and not recaptured until the last 100 days of the conflict. Frederick was re-buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz. His full story is at Summerstown182.
The immediate reaction in the press, not knowing of the scale of the casualties, had been patriotically positive.
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But the stirring stories of advance and charges were soon replaced with fine words about duty and sacrifice as the papers throughout Britain printed page after page of casualty lists. There seemed to be no community in the country that was left untouched by first day of the Somme, and the home towns of the “Pals” Battalions were hard hit..
One remarkable event that took place during the first day of the Somme was the filming of Geoffrey Malins and John B. McDowell, two “Official Kinemaphotographers”. The War Office had sanctioned and financially support the making of a film by “the British Topical Committee for War Films”. John B. McDowell, a late replacement for the sick Edward Tong, had left to join Malins in France on 23rd June 1916. Geoffrey Malins was attached to the 29th Division at Beaumont-Hamel were he captured the explosion of the Hawthorn Mine on camera, while John McDowell was attached to the 7th Division and filmed around Fricourt, Mametz and the “Minden Post” dressing station, near Carnoy.
Malins (Left) & McDowell
Geoffrey Malins was involved in the editing of the film and his talent for self-publicity and ambition is said to have lead to some of McDowell’s work being left on the cutting floor. The book Malins’ book, “How I filmed the War …”, published in 1920, effectively wrote McDowell out of the history.
The silent black and white film that emerged from the editing process was in five reels and lasted 77 minutes with captions interspersed between the various scenes. Lloyd George, who had become Secretary of State for War after Lord Kitchener’s drowning on 5th June 1916, was an enthusiastic supporter of the film which he saw in a private viewing on 2nd August 1916. The first screening took place shortly after on 10th August 1916 at the Scala Theatre in London in front of a specially invited audience. The screening was preceded by the reading of a letter from Lloyd George, exhorting the audience to:
“see that this picture, which is in itself an epic of self-sacrifice and gallantry, reaches everyone. Herald the deeds of our brave men to the ends of the earth. This is your duty.”
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (HU 59419)
On 21 August, the film began showing simultaneously in thirty-four London cinemas and opened in provincial cities the following week. People flocked to see the film, it was as close to the reality of war that audiences could get, the film makers had not flinched for showing the dead and wounded. The film was seen by a staggering 20,000,000 Britons in the first six weeks of its release.
While some often referred to scenes of men attacking through barbed wire are acknowledged as re-enactments, audiences may not have realised that in one sequence of long shots, with troops moving right to left, some figures can be seen to fall. Their deaths had been captured on camera.
The “Battle of the Somme” film produced some the most iconic and enduring images of the Great War.
Footnote 2: Many of the film’s scenes and locations are traced in these two “Then and Now” videos: