In the thick of the fighting

Local men at the Battle of the Somme

At the beginning of 1916 neither side had managed to break the stalemate on the Western Front, but both Germany with Austria-Hungary and Britain with France were determined to mount a massive attack on their enemy to break the deadlock. The Germans attacked first in February at Verdun and the Allies at the Somme in July 1916.

A number of local men went ‘over the top’ on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Walter Gale wrote home from Edinburgh War Hospital to say that he had been injured on the first day and Mrs. Cropley received a letter explaining the circumstances in which her son had been killed on the same day.

It was in September as the battle continued that the British first used tanks on the battlefield, Sergeant Jakins wrote home to Great Gransden to say he had seen them up close.

By November 1916, when the Battle ended, the British had lost 400,000 men, with 20,000 killed and 40,000 wounded on the first day.  Germany and France suffered similar losses and almost 1 million men died during the campaign.

Front page of the St Neots Advertiser, 18th August 1916

Contemporary map of the Western Front, 1914 – 1916

British Infantry at Morval, 25th September 1916, Imperial War Museum Archive

British Mark 1 male tank near Thiepval, 25th September 1916, Imperial War Museum Archive

Letter from Private Walter Gale, St Neots Advertiser, 21st July 1916

Letter to Mrs Cropley of Kings Road, St Neots, St Neots Advertiser, 18th August 1916

Letter from Sergeant R. Jakins, St Neots Advertiser, 6th October 1916