The Territorials at Pozières, 23 July 1916
Oil on canvas, by William Barns Wollen (1857-1936), 1917.
From 17 July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916), the village of Pozières on the main road running north from Albert to Bapaume, was on the front line. It was attacked on 23 July by 1st Australian Division, supported by the British Territorial battalions of the 145th Infantry Brigade. The position was taken, but with heavy losses.
From early 1916, with the German effort 'to bleed France white' at Verdun consuming French reserves, it fell mainly to British and Commonwealth forces to hold the Western Front. On 24 June British artillery launched a week-long intensive bombardment of the German lines north of the river Somme, in preparation for a big infantry attack on 1 July. However, when the attack was duly launched, it was found that the shelling had been largely ineffective. Twenty thousand British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed, the greatest loss of troops ever suffered on one day.
Despite the appalling casualties and traumatic experiences of his troops, the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, continued his tactic of bombardment against the Germans. The campaign deteriorated into a series of minor but very costly actions. In September tanks were employed for the first time to cross trenches and destroy machine guns, but they were unreliable and too few to help secure outright victory. The Somme offensive cost the Allies some 420,000 casualties: the Germans had even greater losses. During these months the Allies advanced barely eight miles.
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National Army Museum, Out of Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection
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