July 1916


David Childs

At 7.30 am on 1 July, following an intensive bombardment and the exploding of several massive mines, British troops walked slowly towards the German trenches on the Somme from which, they had been reliably informed, the enemy would have been driven while the barbed wire entanglements in front of those lines would have been shredded. Neither statement was true. By the end of the day the British had lost 19,240 men killed while twice that number were wounded. No significant gains had been made. The total of 57,470 casualties remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day.

We will remember them

Private John Burden of the 6th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment lies buried in St John's churchyard where it is recorded that he died on 29 July, aged just 19. It is therefore assumed that he was invalided home where he died of wounds or other causes. His parents were Sidney and Ada Burden of 6, Hindon Lane, Tisbury.


Siegfried Sassoon had been with the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Somme since early on in the war. On the first day he was with the reserve and thus able to witness 'a sunlit picture of hell.' He was in action two days later at the 'cursed' Memetz Wood. He wrote several poems in those early days of the battle, showing sensitivity and understanding over the young German dead they came across. The emergence of his sense of futility and frustration comes over clearly in this poem 'Counter Attack.'

We'd gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaven and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,-the jolly old rain!

A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,-loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead

An officer came blundering down the trench:
"Stand-to and man the fire step!" On he went ...
Gasping and bawling, "Fire-step ... counter-attack!"
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
"O Christ, they're coming at us!" Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle ... rapid fire ...
And started blazing wildly ... then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans ...
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.

©  Tisbury History Society
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