1 July 1916: The First Day of the Somme

Four Battalions of the Somerset Light Infantry took part in the 1916 Battles of the Somme. The 1st Battalion went over the top on the first day; 1 July 1916.

The regimental archives detail the day’s events in various ways.

War Diary of the 1st Battalion

War Diary of the 1st Battalion

The war diary of the 1st Battalion gives the official version of the attack:

Z day. Fine and warm. After a very intense bombardment, at 7.20 am a large mine was exploded under the Hawthorn Redoubt. Practically no casualties were suffered while in Assembly trenches. At 7.30 am the attack was launched. The 11th Brigade advanced in magnificent style…The advance was carried out excellently to start with, and a severe barrage was not encountered. Shortly after heavy rifle fire was opened and machine guns from both flanks…The battalion had to ease off to the left owing to the ridge which it should have crossed, being swept by machine guns.

The most vivid descriptions of the day can be found in personal diaries of the men who served with the 1st Battalion. The following extract comes from the diary of Staff Captain Geoffrey Prideaux:

At 5am the bombardment reopened getting heavier and heavier until 7.20am when a hurricane bombardment was opened in the German trenches. At 7.20am the Hawthorn Redoubt South of Beaumont Hamel, was blown up by a gigantic mine, the biggest fired during the war. The mine was 80 feet below the surface and contained 20 ¼ tons of explosive…I watched the attack from Vallade trench and consider it was quite the finest sight I have ever seen

The diary of Lance-Corporal Arthur Henry Cook illustrates the fighting:

It is a lovely morning and the birds are singing…The bombardment is now terrific the German lines are one cloud of smoke, that it seems to be impossible for anyone to live in such a hell…We were able to stand on the parapet to get a better view, there is not a sign of life in front and no response from the German Artillery…Our men were timed to advance 10 minutes after the Rifle Brigade, but so eager were they to get on, that they left soon after…and consequently were caught in the open by these guns…I led the platoon in to the German first line, and after a breather went in to the German second line, here I lost control owing to the men rushing from one shell hole to another in their advance. The ground is littered with our dead…The clearing parties are not doing their work properly in clearing the trenches of all Germans, as here and there parties of Jerrys are popping up and throwing grenades at us from all angles…It is impossible to get any further…the shell holes are full of wounded and no hopes of getting them back…The Germans were now trying to force us out of their trenches, we got together what was left of us now and by collecting bombs from the dead and what Jerry left behind we managed to hold on…then the supply of bombs gave out and no more could be got, the Germans then gradually drove us back inch by inch through their superior supply of bombs…We are a very small number here now and men are being killed and wounded in all directions…I have a terrible thirst caused by the fumes from the shells, the wounded are also crying out for water, but none is available…Our troops are gradually retiring leaving a very small garrison to hold the trench…This is getting pretty hot here now but our orders are to hang on to what we have until midnight, when we are being relieved…The enemy artillery has now started and are dropping shells thick and fast all around us…We held on until relieved about 11 pm, an officer then said we may go back, we didn’t need telling again, we had had our belly full.

Diary of Lance Corporal Cook

Diary of Lance Corporal Cook

On 1 July 1916 the 1st Battalion lost a total of 463 killed, missing or wounded. In total the British Army suffered 57,420 casualties; the greatest loss on any day during the conflict.

The Memorial to Valentine Ashworth Braithwaite, aged 20, who died on 2 July 1916.  Braithwaite is also listed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

The Memorial to Valentine Ashworth Braithwaite, aged 20, who died on 2 July 1916.
Braithwaite is also listed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.


10 thoughts on “1 July 1916: The First Day of the Somme

  1. Your piece about 1 July 1916 sent me checking to see if any Somerset cricketers died on 1 July 1916. John Alexander Hellard, who was born in Stogumber, played for Somerset CCC in 1907 and again in 1910. A Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry his death is listed both as 1 July 1916 (regimental history) and 2 July 1916 (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

    Louise Perrin

    Somerset Cricket Museum


  2. my grandfather, william wilsdon from twerton bath, was badley wounded on the 1st july 1916. thankfully he survived the war was stationed in belfast in1919, met my grandmother and stayed in northern ireland, but thats another story.

  3. My grandfather Gordon Poole joined up in Cardiff and served with the Somerset Light Infantry and died on the 1st July 1916 on the Somme .His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial . If anyone has any records which includes reference to him I would be grateful to hear .

    Also I am looking for a copy of the book A Soldiers War by A H Cook and happy to purchase a copy .

    • The book ‘A Soldiers War’ by Cook is available here in Bristol from the local library network. I returned it yesterday! Elsewhere it should be available by inter-library loan.

      • A worthwhile and enlightening read, with information not found in the battalions History. I have read it but if anyone knows where to purchase a copy I would appreciate it.

  4. My Grandfather Eli George Chick was living in Membury near Axminster and working as a farm carter when he left to join up in 1911. He was aged 17; posted to 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry as a bugler, so was a regular soldier when he embarked for France in Aug 1914. He took part in fighting at Le Cateau, and many other actions throughout the war. Shot and wounded while at Pluegsteert Wood in Dec 1914 he spent time back in England in hospital and rejoined his battalion 6 months later. He was made Corporal on the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916, and promoted to Sergeant 3 months later. He fought in and survived the battles of the Somme, and later engagements but the war was taking its toll. He was Honourably Discharged due to disablement in 1919. Memories of war did not fade easily. In 1960 he named his home in Beer – Le Cateau .

  5. My Great Uncle, Walter J TITHERIDGE was a member of 6th Bn. Somerset Light Infantry and served in France. He died in May 1918 and is buried at Foreste Cemetary. I would love to hear from anyone who could shed some light on the activities of 6th Bn. My understanding is that he was hospitalised and the hospital subsequently overrun by German troops and he died as a prisoner of war. This account has been passed by word of mouth so the accuracy of the account is unknown.

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