The Great War: WWI at The Somme

Digital media means news of a soldier's death can now be shared almost instantly. But in an age of letters, telegrams and censorship, how did Britons learn the disastrous truth of the Battle of the Somme?

In the days following the start of the "big push" on the Western Front, the people of Tynemouth, near Newcastle, had collectively held their breath.

With dread, they watched the post-boy, who delivered the official death notices, appear in the streets around Milburn Place.

Onlookers felt a mixture of sympathy and relief as the boy walked to one of the first houses.

But then he crossed to another house. Then another. In the days that followed, he returned to criss-cross the area. Door after door, family after family.

Eighty-five men from the town died on the first day of the battle alone. Across Britain, the scene was repeated as the legacy of the Somme took shape.

Some 20,000 British soldiers were killed in total on the first day. Yet, in a time of censorship, compliant media barons and slow communications, the scale of the disaster took weeks to become apparent. More at the BBC Page

In just one day almost 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded. Why was this first day on the Somme such a disaster for the British? World War I, trenches and barbed wire ran across the entire continent of Europe from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. At 7:30am on July 1st, 1916, after a devastating artillery bombardment lasting more than a week, 100,000 British soldiers waited in their trenches ready to advance on the German lines. They'd been told to expect minimal resistance, but as they picked their way slowly across no-man's-land, guns opened fire. Shells burst overhead, and waves of men were machine-gunned down. It was a military catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Filmed on the battlefield itself, in laboratories and on firing ranges - archaeologists, military historians, and other experts from disciplines as diverse as metallurgy and geology investigate the factors and conduct tests to replicate and understand the factors that turned one terrible day into the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

Conditions in Trenches - Dan Snow's Battle of the Somme