These newly revealed eye-witness accounts of the Battle of the Somme explore the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the men who went over the top on 1 July 1916. 

Photographs

Battle of Albert

Photographs

Battle of Albert

Roll call of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, on the afternoon of 1 July 1916, following their assault on Beaumont Hamel during the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

 

Battle of Albert. Roll call of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, on the afternoon of 1 July 1916, following their assault on Beaumont Hamel during the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.
© IWM (Q 734)

The documents record the testimonies of 500 British veterans of one of the First World War's key and most costly battles, the majority of which have never been seen before.

The accounts were collected by Martin Middlebrook as research for his book The First Day on the Somme, following an appeal for reports of the day's events in more than 90 local and national newspapers. The stories Middlebrook, a poultry farmer and former Second Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps, gathered for his book,  record not only the terrible wounds suffered by men on both sides but also the experiences of the battle that would linger with them for the rest of their lives.

One of the scanned pages of testimony.

Charles Bartram, a Lance Corporal in a trench mortar battery, remembered the last conversation with his officer before the assault on the German lines.
'He handed me a torch and said if I got through I was to take it home as a souvenir, I took it home and have still got it,' Charles wrote. 'My officer then had another look over the top, it was his last, an explosive bullet blew half his head off'.
Charles and his fellow soldiers made their way back to the reserve trenches later that day, going 'most of the time on our hands and knees over dead and dying, from that moment on all my religion died. After that journey all my teaching and belief in God had left me – never to return.'

Private George Richard Stephen Mayne of the Royal Fusiliers was 19 years old when he went over the top. His account, which he recalled 'as crystal clear as if it were but yesterday', describes the day as 'misty and I could not see far ahead, but above me I could feel the hot sun. The ground underneath my feet was like powder… my state of mind was of bewilderment and I felt woolly headed and it seemed as if I were on my own.'

George's statement records that he managed to get across no man's land unscathed and into the German second line trench where he came across a wounded soldier. 'I saw his putty coloured face which convinced me he was mortally wounded. This German, lying, brought up an arm and actually saluted me,' he wrote.  'All fear of him had gone from me, and all fear of me had gone from him. I understood no German language then, but the poor chap kept muttering two words, 'wasser, wasser' and ‘mutter, mutter’. It took me a minute or so to realise he wanted a drink of water. The second word I could not have cottoned on to. I am glad to this day that I gave him a drink from my precious water’.

Anthony Richards, Head of Documents and Sound at IWM says that 'These papers were one of the first attempts made by an academic to crowd source information from the men who had lived through the first day of the Battle of the Somme. 'They reveal the acts and the regrets of the men who proceeded over the top on 1 July 1916 in their own words, offering an unprecedented account of what went on in the minds of those at the front line.'

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