How I'll remember the centenary of the Battle of the Somme

By a Lindfield resident

My family history from 100 years ago is not unique. It is, I’m sure, quite similar to millions of other families stories across Europe and the world. Our relatives answered the call from each of their nations and during the hot summer of 1914, descended (predominantly) on France & Belgium. All nations, filled with nationalistic pride an fervour, supremely confident that thy each would be the victors ‘by Christmas’. We all (I hope) know the main facts of those horrific, carnage filled years. Every family has a unique & personal story to tell.

One of my great-grandfathers, who fought in the trenches of France, was ‘poison (mustard) gassed’ in 1916 and sent back to England. His wife was told that this 20-something man would succumb to the injuries his lungs had sustained, and be lucky to have ‘a couple more years’. He died over 60 years later, though he endured every day with restrictions to his physical abilities and, I’m reliably informed, my great-grandmother’s constant ‘reminders’ when he annoyed her!

This is just one story passed to me via my grandfather and my mother to me. I will ensure that these memories live through my two children, whom, I hope, will understand the importance of keeping them ‘alive’ for future generations.

Friday 1st July is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme which took place during World War I.

On 1st July 1916 hundreds of thousands of soldiers from all combatant nations commenced this 141-day long battle in northern France. This was the largest, bloodiest battle of World War I, with more than one million people killed, wounded or taken prisoner. In the months leading up to the battle a series of vast tunnels had been dug by thousands of miners, from the British front line, underneath ‘no man’s land’, towards the German trenches.

At 07:28 on the morning of 1st July 1916, hundreds of tons of explosives, placed within these mines, were detonated (17 separate mines). The carnage created is, to this day, indescribable. As the spoil from the explosions (which had rattled windows in LONDON) was settling, at 07:30, the whistles blew and thousands went ‘over the top’. On this first, horrific day the British Army had just under 20,000 soldiers killed with an additional 38,000 wounded. The largest single loss of life the British Army has ever suffered. To place these numbers into some perspective, Brighton & Hove Albion’s AMEX Football Stadium could be filled TWICE with those brave and selfless men

One of the mine explosions caused a massive crater, named Lochnagar (after the starting trench the miners had dug out from), which is situated on the outskirts of the village of Ovilliers-La-Boisselle in northern France. It is now a memorial maintained by volunteers, receiving around 250,000 visitors annually.

When this explosion took place, it is estimated that the spoil from it went over 1.2 kilometres in the air (4,000 feet). The next time you are in London look at The Shard building. The spoil from this explosion went over four times higher than it. The next time you may visit Blackthorns / Lindfield Primary School look at the grass playing field, which is just under 100 metes long. That’s nearly the same width of today’s Lochnagar crater. The next time you look at an average two storey house, double the height. That is the approximate depth of the crater (21 metres or 70 feet). Only approximate statistics are available however, but the German army is believed to have lost around 6,000 men due to this one crater explosion alone. For perspective, the 2011 Census stated that Lindfield village (not including Lindfield Rural) had 5,836 residents.

I have selected just one day and one personal/family memory. I wish to remain anonymous as my name does not count and is not important. What is massively important and I do implore every villager to do on Friday 1st July, is to stop and remember, even for just 100 seconds, the selflessness of the millions who lost their lives.

The village of Lindfield and its surrounding rural area lost 64 men during World War I, with nine of those men losing their lives as a result of this battle. The two memorials to them are situated within and outside All Saints Church. Theirs are the only names to be remembered from Lindfield village on that day.

We will remember them.