Sherwood Foresters Museum
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As dawn broke on 1 July 1916, Fourth Army waited for the seven day artillery barrage to stop and the advance to start. The soldiers had been told that the Germans would have been battered into submission, the wire defences cut to ribbons and the operation would be a walkover, literally.
In the event the Germans were fresh and well prepared, they had mended the broken wire every night and as soon as the bombardment ceased they surface mounted their machine guns and mowed down the slowly advancing troops in rigid straight lines; no skirmishing was allowed.
Needless to say casualties were appalling; the worst day in the history of the British Army. The attack was supposed to break through a part of the front that had hitherto seen little fighting and to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun. Some nineteen divisions took part in the initial attack, which, in general, failed to meet its main objectives. The casualties were the worst ever suffered, before or since, by the British Army in a single day - around 19,000 killed and 38,000 wounded. Regimental casualty details are not complete but three Forester battalions alone lost over 1500 killed and wounded on that day.
Much has been written about this battle, the huge losses for the small gain over the hard fought months. It still leaves a scar on the national memory. Today there is countrywide shock at the loss of a single soldier. It is therefore hard to imagine the grief, which the losses on the Somme caused. There cannot have been a town, village, hamlet or street in the Regimental Counties unaffected. What is harder to assess is the effect on morale of the battalions which suffered those losses, especially when it is remembered that these battalions were mainly "Kitchener's Army", recruited in 1915.
10th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters with spoils of war on the third day of the Battle
There was no mutiny and discipline was maintained but the level of gallantry indicates that the discipline was not of a repressive nature, for acts of courage spring from a high morale and a desire to beat the enemy or assist comrades. Not all acts of bravery were rewarded with a medal. Two Victoria Crosses were won on the Somme in 1916 as well as many other gallantry awards, often in citations there were words like "though severely wounded he continued to engage the enemy" or "he carried his comrade to safety regardless of the withering enemy fire".
These relatively untrained and recently formed battalions suffered such losses. Tthey were also subjected to large scale reinforcement leading to internal re-organisation and turmoil. How on earth did they continue to fight in this battle and the rest of the war?
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