The Battle of the Somme — 1 July – 18 November 1916
The Battle of the Somme, or the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. It was one of the largest battles of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were killed or wounded, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
The Somme offensive comprised several separate phases or battles, and the reader is referred to the excellent descriptions of these given under the Somme heading on the Commonweath War Graves Commission [CWGC] website.
The phases were:
Battle of Albert, 1-13 July 1916
Battle of Bazentin Ridge, 14-17 July
Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July-3 September
Battle of Pozieres Ridge, 23 July-3 September
Battle of Guillemont, 3-6 September
Battle of Ginchy, 9 September 1916
Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15-22 September
Battle of Morval, 25-28 September
Battle of Thiepval Ridge, 26-28 September
Battle of Le Transloy, 1-18 October
Battle of Ancre Heights, 1 October – 11 November
Battle of the Ancre, 13-18 November 1916
Whilst the Somme is rightly remembered for its enormous casualties, especially on the first day, the losses were of those battalions first committed. In this respect, the men from Rugby were comparatively fortunate. Some 51 men died in the Somme area and ten more of wounds, from units involved in the battle, in the period between 1 July to 18 November and then up to the end of December 1916. These Rugby losses were spread among some 42 separate Battalions or equivalent groups. Naturally, the heaviest Rugby losses were in the Regiments that had more commonly recruited Rugby men: the Warwickshire Regiment, especially the 1/6th Bn. [3 Dead], 1/7th Bn. [4 dead], 8th Bn. [3 dead] and 14th Bn. [3 dead]; and the Oxford & Bucks: the 6th Bn. [3 dead] – where there had already been heavy losses of Rugby men in the 5th Bn. of the Ox. & Bucks. on ‘Rugby’s worst day’ on 25 September 1915, in actions which related to the opening of the Battle of Loos.
Whereas 13 Rugby men were lost on 25 September 1915, only ten were lost on 1 July 1916, during the opening of the Battle of the Somme. However, as noted above further casualties continued in the Somme area, as well as the deaths of another eight Rugby men in other operations from Belgium to Greece and Salonica.
It must be remembered that in this analysis, ‘Rugby men’ are those on the Rugby Memorial Gates – men from the Rugby area died on the same days in the same battalions, but were listed on other memorials, for example those in Brownsover, Hillmorton and New Bilton, and other surrounding villages.
In total, in this period, some 32 Rugby men who are remembered on the Memorial Gates, but have no known graves, are also remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. The Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world and bears the names of more than 72,000 men who died on the Somme and have no known grave. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it is also commemorates the alliance between the British Empire and France. Beside the memorial is a cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves, brought together from all over the battlefield.
A further 19 Rugby men, who fought in the Somme area in this period have known named graves in the Somme area. Some 11 Rugby men who probably fought in the Somme area, sustained wounds and were evacuated to dressing stations and hospitals, but died of their wounds. In most cases their names were thus known and they are now buried in cemeteries adjacent to the medical establishments where they died.
However, there was action away from the Somme and in the same period Rugby men died in the Ypres and Arras areas, and elsewhere overseas in Greece and Egypt.
In total some 74 Rugby men who are commemorated on the Gates died in the period, and in addition others are remembered on the village memorials that are now encompassed in the Rugby Borough.
The ‘Rugby men’ will all be dealt with in individual biographies, although in some cases it may be difficult to establish where they served, especially if they were wounded, evacuated and then died at a dressing station or hospital, sometime some distance behind lines, or in even back in UK, with their families taking their sons’ bodies home for burial.
The details and family histories of all the Rugby Memorial Gate casualties, from the Somme and all other areas, will be given on the 100th anniversary of the day on which they died on this site.
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This article on the Battle of the Somme was written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, June 2016.