|British soldiers go "over the top" at the Somme. (Source)|
The British Fourth Army took 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 were killed.
The 29th Division attacked towards Beaumont-Hamel. Part of the attack was filmed and showed the detonation of a 40,000-pound (18,000 kg) mine, beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt at 7:20 a.m., ten minutes before the infantry attack began, which alerted the Germans. British troops failed to occupy all of the mine crater before German troops arrived and took over the far lip. Many troops of both brigades were shot down in no man's land, which was dominated by Redan Ridge and then caught by German artillery barrages. German white signal rockets were seen and taken for British success flares, which led the divisional commander Major-General de Lisle, to order the 88th Brigade from reserve, to exploit the success.
The 88th Brigade included the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, which advanced on open ground from reserve trenches 200 yards back from the British front line, to avoid the congestion of dead and wounded in communication trenches. Many of the Newfoundlanders became casualties to German small-arms fire while still behind the front line; some of the Newfoundlanders got across no man's land near Y Ravine but were held up by uncut wire. Most of the German shelters and Beaumont-Hamel were demolished and shell-craters overlapped. Reserve Infantry Regiment 119, who had been sheltering under the village in Stollen survived and with other units at Leiling Schlucht ("Y Ravine") and the Leiling and Bismarck dug-outs, engaged the British troops from the wreckage of the trenches. The Newfoundland Battalion suffered 710 casualties, a 91 percent loss, second only to that of the 10th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, which lost 733 casualties at Fricourt, south of the Albert–Bapaume road. The 29th Division lost 5,240 casualties.
For Newfoundland, the first day of battle changed the course of the island's history, ending any hope of independence. After the war the Newfoundland government bought 40 acres at the site of the battalion's attack and created the Newfoundland Memorial Park to commemorate the dead, which was opened by Haig on 7 June 1925. Although the rest of Canada celebrates Canada Day on 1 July, it remains Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador. W
|The British Plan (Source)|
I read an article not too long ago about Newfoundland's role in World War I. At the time, Newfoundland was not actually part of Canada but was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. You can read more about the role of Newfoundland and Labrador during the Great War here.
In proportion to wealth and population, Newfoundland's contribution in the First World War was outstanding. Approximately 8,500 men were enrolled, nearly 7,000 in the Newfoundland Regiment and Forestry Corps, the remainder in the Royal Navy. Casualties were extremely high. In the Newfoundland Regiment about 1,300 were killed and over 2,300 wounded; of those who enlisted in the Royal Navy about 180 lost their lives and 125 were invalided home.The Somme Offensive lasted until the 18th of November of 1916. Allied casualties numbered 794,238, of which 481,842 were from the British Empire (United Kingdom, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, India, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia). The French lost approximately 250,000 and German losses were 236,194. (Those figures are from the Wikipedia article cited above.)
Of the men in the Naval Service, the Cambridge History of the British Empire says: -
The seamen of Newfoundland had long been known in the Navy as efficient and resourceful, but the end of the War left them with a greatly enhanced reputation. They readily undertook almost impossible boarding operations in wild seas which others would not face. Nothing but praise was accorded by the Fleet.
The great test of the Newfoundland Regiment came at Beaumont-Hamel in the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916. They went into action 753 strong; only 68 answered the roll call next day. A memorial to the fallen stands on the field of Beaumont-Hamel and on Commemoration Day the people of Newfoundland gather at their war memorials in remembrance. (Source)
But on the very first day, one day mind you, 57,470 men of the British Empire fell in battle. Of those, 19,240 were killed outright, no doubt many of the wounded later died of their wounds or carried the scars of those wounds, mental and physical, for the rest of their lives. A very good post about the Somme, The day Sussex died, written by the Brighton Pensioner can be read here. I highly recommend it.
Also recommended is a very good photo essay by The Telegraph here.
19,240 dead. That's not just a number. Each of those men had parents, a home town, dreams for the future. All of that ended, on a July day in France. One hundred years ago today.
In 2010, the town where I live had a population of 22,954. Puts things in perspective it does.