The Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916) was a joint operation between the British and French armies, intended to deliver a decisive victory over the Germans on the Western Front. For many in Britain, the resulting battle remains the most painful and infamous episode of the First World War.
In December 1915, Allied commanders had agreed to launch a joint attack in the region of the River Somme in the summer of 1916. Intense German pressure on the French at Verdun throughout 1916 made action on the Somme increasingly urgent and meant the British would take on the main role in the offensive.
They were faced with German defences that had been carefully prepared over many months. Despite a seven-day bombardment prior to the attack on 1 July, the British did not achieve the quick breakthrough that had been anticipated and the Somme became a deadlocked battle of attrition along a 15 mile front
British casualties on the first day – numbering over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed – making it the bloodiest day in British military history. Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of only seven miles. More than one million men from all sides were killed, wounded or captured.
From the outset The Worcestershire Regiment experienced heavy fighting. Six Battalions were in action on the fateful 1st July 1916, these were: 1st; 3rd; 4th; 1/7th; 1/8th and 10th. They were later joined by the 2nd and the 14th Battalions.
During the five months of fighting on the Somme, the Regiment took part in the following actions:
The Worcesters at High Wood
Beaumont Hamel, 4th Battalion, 1st – 3rd July
Leipzig Salient (1st Phase), 3rd Battalion, 3rd – 8th July
La Boisselle, 10th Battalion, 3rd July
Contalmaison, 1st, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 6th – 10th July
Ovillers, 3rd, 1/8th, 1/7th Battalions, 10th -17th July
Bazetin Ridge, 2nd, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 15th – 21st July
High Wood, 2nd, 10th Battalions, 15th – 23rd July
Pozières Ridge, 1/7th, 10th, 3rd Battalions, 20th July – 23rd August
Leipzig Salient (2nd Phase), 3rd , 2nd Battalions, 23rd – 26th August
Delville Wood, 2nd Battalion, 24th August
Leipzig Salient (3rd Phase), 3rd, 1/7th, 1/8th, Battalions, 2nd – 3rd September
Ancre Heights, 3rd, 10th Battalions, 2nd – 24th October
Transloy Ridges, 10th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 1/8th, 14th Battalions, 12th October – 5th November
Ancre, 10th, 14th, 2/7th Battalions, 13th – 21st November
Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle. Drawing by Holiday
As a result of the courage and resolve of the Regiment, its officers and men were accorded a total of 50 Honours and Gallantry awards. These included: two Victoria Crosses; awarded to Pte T.G. Turrall of 10th Battalion at La Boisselle on 3rd July 1916 and Lt. E.P. Bennett of 2nd Battalion at Transloy Ridge on 5th November 1916, and 7 Distinguished Service Orders; 17 Military Crosses; 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals; and 4 Military Medals.
Lt. Bennett wining his VC at Transloy Ridge
Regimental casualties on 1st July 1916 were recorded as 102. A further 613 were killed in action during the period to November, with other casualties recorded as an additional 3090 wounded and 519 men missing.
The Regiment was subsequently awarded the following battle honours:
The Somme (1st July – 18th Nov) Pozieres (23rd July – 3rd Sept)
Albert (1st July – 13th July) Le Transloy (1st Oct – 18th Oct)
Bazentin (14th July – 17th July) Ancre Heights (1st Oct – 11th Nov)
Delville Wood (15th July – 3rd Sept) Ancre (13th Nov – 18th Nov)
Captain E.P. Bennett VC