'For many, the first of July was their last day on this earth', says military historian on Somme centenary

'The Somme was really the death of innocents', says military historian after 100 year anniversary of WWI conflict

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history

Friday, July 1, 2016

Historian Paul Nixon has reflected on the Battle of the Somme following a nationwide two minute silence earlier this morning.

July 1 marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The French and British Allied forces combined to launch an offensive against the Germans across the upper reaches of the River Somme in northern France. The battle lasted until November 1916.

It was one of the First World War's deadliest conflicts, widely regarded as the one of the bloodiest battles in human history with more than one million casualties across all sides. Britain alone suffered more than 400,000 losses. 

"It was the blooding of many so called 'pals' battalions," Nixon told Julia Hartley-Brewer. "These were all men who joined up in 1914, trained hard, and knew each other from having worked and played together. 

"For many of them, the first of July was their last day on this earth. 

Nixon shed light on one of the reasons why British casualties were so high.

"The generals in the British army really felt this could be the breakthrough," he added. "Britain been at war for two years with Germany, and this was seen as the big offensive, the big push. They were confident the artillery would have broken down the German defenses and the troops would simply walk over.

"Unfortunately the Germans had very deep dugouts, and when the bombardment ended, they simply positioned their machine guns and gunned down the British troops.

"The Somme was really the death of innocents. These young men, educated, intelligent men – hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. 

"The British Empire paid a heavy price that day."