The Battle of the Somme, 100 Years On

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Somme offensive, a series of fierce and ultimately futile battles that consumed the British, Australian and Dominion forces for much of 1916. The offensive was eventually abandoned on 18 November with staggering troop losses and very little ground gained.

The initial day of the offensive, 1 July 1916, remains the costliest day in the history of the British army. It suffered almost 60,000 casualties, a third of whom were killed. The attack on 1 July, and the operations that followed, were undermined by a failure to appreciate the strength of the German defences, and the relative ineffectiveness of the British artillery against them. British command had a lack of confidence in the abilities of Britain’s volunteer army, which meant there was a distinct lack of imagination or innovation in the tactics employed.

Despite the enormous losses of that first battle at the Somme, the offensive continued through summer and a particularly wet autumn until the first snow fell on 18 November 1916. The Australian Imperial Force, consisting of men who had fought at Gallipoli and fresh volunteers from home, arrived at the Somme in late July.

The major contribution of Australian troops to the Somme offensive was in the fighting around Pozières between 23 July and 3 September. The 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions suffered more than 24,000 casualties at Pozières, including 6,741 dead.

Nine men from the Surf Coast honour boards were killed in action during the Somme offensive. William Traill Appleton (Anglesea); Charles Smith and John Lamb (Ceres); Albert Clery (Connewarre); Francis Gannon, Ray Trigg, Lester Crossley (Deans Marsh); Robert Smithers and Ernest Armistead (Lorne). Five of these men, who were attached to the 21st and 22nd Battalion, died on July 19 at Fromelles / Fleurbaix.

When exhaustion, and the sticky mud of a particularly wet autumn, caused the offensive to be abandoned in November, the allied forces had managed to advance only 12 kilometers. It had come at a cost of 430,000 British and Dominion troops and 200,000 French casualties. The offensive destroyed Britain’s mass volunteer army, and for the rest of the war it would be reliant upon conscription for reinforcements. Participation on the Somme also put the first strain on Australia’s voluntary recruitment system, and led to the first unsuccessful referendum to introduce conscription.



On this day…..1914

August 4, 1914

Britain declares war on Germany
Australia pledged a force of 20,000 to be placed at Britain’s disposal.

August 10

Volunteer recruiting begins in Australia

August 17 – 26

Within a week of recruitment opening 13 young men with a connection to the Surf Coast signed up for what they believed to be an adventure and service to the country. Aurthur Reginald Taylor (Torquay); William Richard Grant (Deans Marsh); Murray Charles Storrer (Torquay, Anglesea); William McAdam (Modewarre); Albert Edmonds (Bannockburn); Edward Vienet (Ceres); Thomas Doyle (Connewarre); Herbert Marendaz (Mt Duneed); Percy Graham (Connewarre); John Cantwell (Freshwater Creek); Leslie Bailey (Torquay)

August 21

Rupert Vance Moon enlisted in the AIF

September 5

Albert Jacka travelled to Melbourne and enlisted after his initial enlistment papers were lost.

September 11

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) seized German New Guinea and nearby German-ruled island territories

October 19

The first soldiers from the Surf Coast embarked from Melbourne aboard –
HMAT A24 Benalla – John Cantwell, Percy Graham, Thomas Doyle, William McAdam, Albert Edmonds, William Grant
HMAT A20 Hororata – Edward Vienet
HMAT A18 Wiltshire – Murray Storrer, Herbert Marendaz

November 1

The First Division of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) sailed from Albany, Western Australia, for Egypt.

November 9

HMAS Sydney destroys the German raider SMS Emden at the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.

November 26

Australian troops in Egypt