As most will be aware, today is the one hundredth anniversary of the first day of The Battle of the Somme or the Somme Offensive, a First World War battle between the British and French empires and the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front; more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the "supporting" attack by the British became the principal effort.
The first day on the Somme was the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties, mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line.
The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force and the Kitchener Army, which was composed of Pals battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations. Among these latter conscripts was my grandfather, William Brady, born in Bilston but by then living in Newport, South Wales. He was of Irish ancestry and a Roman Catholic. There is a photograph somewhere from 1914 of my grandfather in a ragtime band. In 1916, aged 21, he was conscripted to the life guards and soon found himself at the Somme. I have no details of what happened, although I believe he was injured and may well have been gassed at this time.
Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle. I am simply glad my grandfather survived. Following the war he looked for a job. Apparently, he was spotted in an unemployment queue by an officer (my grandfather was 6' 4" and not easy to miss) and efforts were made to secure him a job in the steel industry. He spent the rest of his working life in Lysaght's as a steel checker. Remembrance Day was always an important day and he was very involved in the local British Legion. Nine years after the Somme he married my Bristol born, Newport based Protestant grandmother. They soon had my father, who was followed by four other children. He died in 1978, aged 83.
(The 119th Brigade, originally the Welsh Bantam Brigade, was an infantry brigade formation, part of Kitchener's New Armies. It served in the 40th Division on the Western Front. It was formed in Newport and may well have been my grandfather's brigade.)