The Somme battle was a result of war co-operation between the allies Britain, France and Russia for the offensive's in 1916. While Britain and France 'pushed' from the west Russia was to launch an attack in the east on the Austro-Hungarian forces.
The Germans however got in first by attacking at Verdun in such a manner as to 'Bleed France white.'
Such was the weight of the battle that the French began to drift from the Somme attack and left this to General Haig to command. Haig did not wish to fight at the Somme but the London government were in awe of France and insisted that he follow their lead as they had done the year before when forcing the then Commander in Chief Sir John French to fight at Loos. That was a disaster and the fighting there continued until 1918.
A huge logistical operation was undertaken and a line sixteen miles long became the battle line. Over 1500 guns were to spend an entire week firing at the German line in an attempt to break the enemy wire and damage their trench system. Shortly before the attack mines spread along the lone were to be exploded, damaging the trench system and the shock allowing the allies to penetrate the enemy line.
The majority of battalions participating in this battle were the men who volunteered willingly in 1914. Over two and a half million men volunteered between August 1914 and December 31st 1915. Some had been in France since Spring 1915 and seen action of some sort, others arrived on the day of battle and few of these had fired a shot in practice let alone in anger.
On 1st July 1916 the mines went off, the barrage lifted to the second line and over 100,000 men left their trench and advanced on the enemy.
Only then were the failures to be revealed.
The enemy wire in many places was uncut, trenches often undamaged and the early firing of the Hawthorn Ridge mine ensued the Germans were ready and waiting when the attack came. Many of the million and a half shells had failed to explode or went off early. The shock element was limited and with both machine gun and artillery, and artillery which had been 'hidden' by the Germans, opening fire the attackers came under a hail of fire and advance bent over as though walking through heavy rain. In some places the front line and further was reached but in many the British fell within yards of their own trench.
Two men from this region fell that day.
Robert Leslie Ratcliff a 19 year old Bocking man was one. Born Bocking in 1897 a resident of Panfield Lane Robert enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment. It is most likely he did so with friends from the area at the time. Also serving in the 2nd Battalion was 19 year old George Leonard Smoothy from Chapel Hill. George came from a family of ten children, not uncommon for the time. George had enlisted in the 12th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, a 'Kitchener battalion comprising local volunteers and been rejected because of faulty vision. However with a brother a 'regular' in the 2nd Battalion he turns up there in time for this battle. His brother fought through many major battles surviving the war yet died from appendicitis in 1919.
The battalion advanced and came under heavy machine gun and artillery fire the moment they left their trench. Firing from the residue of the towns of Serre and Beaumont Hamel on either flank hindered the advance however some parties advanced 2000 yards into the enemy line reaching to Pendant Copse until enemy bombers forced a return to the trench system known as the 'Quadrilateral.' Here a stand was made until relieved during the night.
Somewhere during the battle Robert and George fell, their bodies were never recovered and their names are engraved on the Theipval Memorial along with almost 72,000 others from the Somme conflict.
Battalion Casualties were 22 officers and 400 other ranks.
Total casualties that day were around 19,000 British dead and another 40,000 wounded. By the end of the battle, or series of 'battles' there were almost 400,000 British and similar German casualties. However in context of the time the 'Brusilov Offensive' where the Russian forces attacked across what is now Ukraine against the Austro-Hungarians some 1,350,000 were casualties.
By the end of the war Britian lost less men that France, Germany or Russia and their Generals were not hounded as some of the British Generals were by politicians, like Prime Minister LLoyd George trying to avoid responsibility for the deaths.