Mention the Battle of the Somme and most will think of the terrible statistics of carnage of the First Day (1 July 1916), epitomised in the following eye-witness account:
” The trench was a horrible sight. The dead were stretched out on one side, one on top of each other six feet high. I thought at the time I should never get the peculiar disgusting smell of the vapour of warm human blood heated by the sun out of my nostrils. I would rather have smelt gas a hundred times. I can never describe that faint sickening, horrible smell which several times nearly knocked me up altogether.”
That fateful first day saw a dreadful “butcher’s bill” of some 57,470 British casualties, of which 19, 240 were killed, including Sergeant James Turnbull VC of the 15th Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry.
However, the Battle of the Somme was to continue for a further 141 days until 18 November 1916 and the casualties would number well over a million: the French and British armies would suffer c625,000 and the Germans, c500,00. Fifty-one Victoria Crosses would be awarded – seventeen of them posthumously; and the furthest advance of any allied force would be 5 miles!
The Battalion diary for 10 HLI for the first day of the Somme records that half the men went to the baths; but they would soon be in the thick of the fighting, along with virtually every other Regiment in the British Army, a Naval Brigade, the fledgling Army Flying Corps and contingents from Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
Members from the three Armed Services, including the Regular Army, Reserve Forces, Cadets and Veterans assembled at Glasgow Cathedral to commemorate the Battle of the Somme and to remember the sacrifice of those who fought a century ago. It was perhaps appropriate that the Colours of 52nd Lowland, 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, were present as successors of Glasgow’s Territorial Force and “Pals” battalions, whose losses were so great.
Territorial Army veteran, Danny McRae, was so moved by the Battle of the Somme that he funded special commemorative badges which he distributed to the congregation. This badge, an excellent commemoration of the Battle, is available in our Museum shop.