At 7.30 in the morning of 1 June 1916, the first phase of the Battle of the Somme got underway. Eighty British and French infantry battalions commenced a mass attack on the opposing German lines along an 18 mile front. Their instruction was to walk towards the enemy. Following a five-day artillery bombardment, the assumption was that the opposition would be decimated and resistance minimal. Instead, secure in deeply dug trenches and underground bunkers, the German Second Army had not only survived the onslaught but now confronted the advancing troops with raking machine gun fire. By the end of the first day there were 57,470 British casualties, including 19,240 men killed. By the time the battle ended 141 days later, the toll of British and French casualties had reached 485,000, with a further 630,000 incurred by the Germans. At the conclusion of the Great War, globally seventy million men had been mobilised. A conservative estimate puts the total losses at nine million.
Image credits (top to bottom)
2nd Lieutenant Gilbert S. M. Insall by Edward Newling, 1919. Imperial War Museums © WM ART 2629
Self-portrait as a Soldier by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1915. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio; Charles F. Olney Fund, 1950 © Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio
Edith Cavell by an unknown photographer, 1910s. © National Portrait Gallery, London