Centenary of The Battle of The Somme

July 1st, Canada Day, has a special significance in Newfoundland and Labrador. On July 1, 1916, the Battle of The Somme began at 7:30 am. At 9:15 am, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, just over 800 men, went over the top at Beaumont-Hamel and advanced at walking pace into the fire of the machine guns. In about 30-40 minutes, 233 had been killed and 386 wounded. At Roll Call on July 2, only 68 soldiers were present. Almost the whole regiment had been lost. The 1st Essex Regiment, in a front line trench, who were supposed to support the Newfoundlanders, were not given the order to advance at the same time, so the Newfoundlanders were completely on their own and had climbed out of their trenches at the rear rather than go to the front line using the communications trenches, because the latter were clogged with wounded from the earlier attack waves. Hence they were exposed to enemy fire even earlier than they should have been. They bravely followed orders and continued to walk forward even though they were being cut down.  Their heroism was incredible.

Retired general Rick Hillier, Canada’s former chief of defence staff and the highest-ranking officer from Newfoundland and Labrador, stated:

“They committed troops without supporting fire in many cases, in bright sunlight, across open ground, in bunched-up groups into machine gun fire, into sniper fire and into artillery fire which was concentrated on them. Trying to find their way through narrow gaps even in their own barbed wire in front of their own positions made them obvious, easy targets for the enemy,”  “I’ll give you a word: stupidity. Strategic stupidity, and hopefully we’ll never see that again.” “Devastating loss of life.”

It was the most devastating battle of the First World War for the Newfoundland Regiment.

The battle began July 1, 1916, near the River Somme. Two waves of Allied soldiers left their trenches and were mowed down by German artillery fire. The Newfoundland Regiment was part of the third wave.

After they were ordered over the top, they were quickly met by a catastrophic barrage. Most of the men were killed or wounded before they could reach no man’s land.

Within half an hour, more than 85 per cent of the battalion were either dead or wounded. Of the 752 Newfoundlanders involved in the advance, only 68 men were available for roll call the next day.

Hillier said the massive loss of sons, brothers, husbands and fathers took a toll on every family and community and meant a huge loss of leadership for the next 50 to 60 years.

“It was an incredible negative legacy in that way,” he said.

The Canadian Divisions (not the Newfoundlanders) were sent to The Somme in October 1916. The 1st Division were sent to join the 2nd Australian Army at Pozières.

Later the 2nd and 3rd Divisions joined the 1st and the main fighting ground for the Canadian Corps started on September 15 at Flers-Courcelette.The 4th Division joined the series of battles in mid-October.

By the end of November, the Battle of The Somme was over. The Canadians suffered more than 8,000 killed for a gain of 2.5 kilometres in that region.

For the British Empire (Commonwealth) forces, the overall result was a disaster. Overall casualties for all armies were over 1, 000, 000 killed or wounded, for a gain of about 10.5 kilometres (6 miles) for the allied British Empire and French armies.


1st Newfoundland Regiment

Newfoundland Regiment Platoon

A platoon from the 1st Newfoundland Regiment


The battlefield at Beaumont-Hamel today – preserved in the

Newfoundland Memorial Park


Caribou statue in Newfoundland Memorial Park

Lest We Forget

References:  The First Day On The Somme by Martin Middlebrook (Fontana/Collins);

For King and Empire – The Canadians on the Somme by Norm Christie (CEF Books)


                                                                                                                                       Comments are closed.