There are 3 tours in this series each planned to be a full day. This page will give an idea of the sites that would be covered on each day. All tours are customised and the exact sites visited will depend on your wishes, the time of year, the weather, and mobility. Tours can often be customised to feature sites relevant to family members.
The 3 standard tours are:
1) The First Day of the Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916
2) The Battle of Flers-Courcelette 15 September 1916
3) The Battle of the Somme 4 1/2 Bitter Months
1st DAY TOUR: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme – 1st July 1916
The Battle of the Somme was to be a joint offensive. 13 British and 6 French divisions would mount the initial attack. The Anglo-French Memorial at Maricourt marks this point where the 17th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment stood side by side with the 153e Régiment d’Infanterie and the British and French front lines were joined.
The men of the 8th and 9th Devonshire Regiments attacked at Mametz on 1st July 1916. After initial setbacks they achieved their objectives but at great cost.
Fricourt was the principal German fortified village between the river Somme and the river Ancre. It was attacked on 1st July by the 21st Division and captured the following day. It was here that the 10th Yorkshire West Riding Regiment lost over 700 men on the 1st July, more than any other regiment that day. Only one officer remained alive at the end of the day and he was wounded.
The German cemetery now holds the remains of 17,000 German soldiers which have been brought from all over the Somme battlefield.
At 7:27 am on July 1st 1916 a series of mines exploded under the German front line, causing chaos and countless casualties. The largest of these, packed with 60,000lb of ammonal explosive, was at La Boisselle. Its crater, named by the conquering troops Lochnegar, was 300ft across and 70ft deep. It can still be seen today.
The village of Thiepval was a German stronghold, strongly fortified with deep dugouts and swathes of barbed wire. The Salford Pals set out to capture it on 1st July 1916 and paid a high price. They were close to wiped out but gained no ground. Now Thiepval Ridge is the site of the Memorial to the Missing which dominates the skyline.
The Ulster Tower was opened in 1921. It is a close copy of St Helen’s Tower on the Clandeboye Estate where many of the 36th Division troops had trained. It marks the spot where the 36th (Ulster) Division attacked on July 1st 1916 losing over 5,000 men.
This is the Sunken Lane where the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers waited before the battle early on the morning of July 1st 1916. A film taken by Geoffrey Malins shows them chatting and smoking in a relaxed fashion which belies the tension that they must have been feeling as they waited for the order to stand to.
The Hawthorn Ridge was the site of another mine explosion at 7:28 on 1st July 1916. This was the one that was filmed by Malins and appears in numerous WW1 documentaries. A second mine exploded in the same spot in November 1916 when the 51st (Highland) Division attacked Beaumont Hamel. This has resulted in a dual crater within the trees on the top of the ridge.
Newfoundland Park was bought by the people of Newfoundland (then a independent country) as a place to commemorate the soldiers from Newfoundland who fought here on 1st July 1916.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment formed the second attacking wave and went into action at 8:45 am. Of the 780 Newfoundlanders who went into battle that morning 680 became casualties, either killed, wounded or missing.
The Redan Ridge linking Newfoundland Park and Hawthorn Crater is home to many small front line cemeteries. On 1st July 1916 the attacks here failed.
Just across the fields from Serre lies Sheffield Park which was bought by the town of Sheffield in memory of the Pals Battalions that fought here on 1st July 1916. There are several memorials here, both private and public. It is a good place from which to picture the action of that fateful morning as you look from Sheffield Park towards the old German front line.
A diversionary attack took place at Gommecourt with the aim of drawing troops and artillery away from Serre where the main attack would take place.
2nd DAY TOUR : The Battle of Flers-Courcelette 15th September 1916
On 15th September 1916 a major offensive was launched in order to push back the German front line. It was essentially an Anglo-French offensive. But it was also the first time that troops from Canada and New Zealand had fought on the Somme.
Tanks made their debut here with mixed success. About 30 Mark 1 tanks manned by members of the Machine Gun Corp who were known as the Heavy Branch.
This memorial just outside Pozières marks the spot were some of the tanks assembled during the night preceding the attack.
This photograph shows Martinpuich as it looked when it was occupied by the Germans before this battle in which it was heavily shelled.
This German command bunker was occupied by the British after Martinpuich was taken.
High Wood, also known by the French as Bois de Fourcaux, and as Bois de Fourreaux by the Germans, sits on the high ground between Martinpuich and Longueval. Deep tunnels connected it to Martinpuich enabling it to be resupplied with troops and ammunition in relative safety. On 15th September 1916 after a long and bloody day the 47th (London) Division captured the wood starting a long association between them and the two villages which continues to this day.
Troops from New Zealand fought here on the open ground between High Wood and Longueval. In 2004 New Zealand chose one of the soldiers who fell here to be returned to New Zealand and reinterred in Wellington in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Rose petals from the Christchurch gardens of the Rannerdale War Veterans Home were buried with him.
Flers, site of the tank’s greatest initial success, now famous for the Press report “a tank is walking down the main street of Flers with the British Army cheering behind it”
Lesboeufs was attacked by the Guards Division on 25th September 1916 but it was 10 days before they took it.
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was largely a success with the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers being taken by the end of the day.
3rd DAY TOUR: The Battle of the Somme – 4 1/2 Bitter Months
From July until mid November the Battle of the Somme rolled on. A series of small offensives continually gained ground. The photographs below show some of the many sites were actions took place.
The Red Dragon overlooks the fields that were crossed by the 38th (Welsh) Division as they attacked Mametz Wood. Their initial attack on 7th July 1916 was halted by heavy machine gun fire but a second attempt on the 10th saw slow steady progress. By the 12th they left the wood almost entirely in British hands. 4000 Welshman were casualties here.
Maltz Horn Farm, originally the farm of Paulus Maltzkorn, was on the high ground between Hardecourt- au-Bois and Trones Wood. It was heavily fortified with deep dugouts under the farm. On 9th July th 30th Division captured the remains of Maltzhorn Farm and went on to capture the eastern edge of Trones Wood
On the morning of 15th July 1916 3153 soldiers of the 1st South African Brigade marched through Longueval and entered Delville Wood. 5 days later 780 emerged. It is widely acknowledged that without their tenacity in holding the wood Longueval would have been lost.
The trenches in Delville Wood have been left and even at bluebell time it has a sombre atmosphere. It is easy to imagine the complexity of fighting a battle in such a place. The museum here honours all South Africa’s military achievements.
Pozières sits on a ridge in the centre of the Somme battlefield. As such it was a heavily fortified important German offensive position. It was initially attacked and taken by the 1st Australian Division and the 48th (West Midlands) Division on 22-23rd July 1916.
The 2nd Australian Division took over from the 1st on 27 July and were subjected to continual heavy bombardment while they prepared the attack on the German lines across the Albert Bapaume Road on the site of the old windmill. The site was captured on 4th August and the following day the 4th Australian Division took over the position.
Throughout August Australians were also heavily involved in fighting in and around Mouquet Farm which was described by them as a “proper fort”. On the 3rd September the Canadians joined the battle taking over from the Australians on the 5th and capturing part of the farm by the 16th, though they were soon repulsed.
It was the 26 September 1916 before Mouquet Farm was taken and it fell to the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 6th East Yorkshire (Pioneers) to claim the victory.
On 12 October 1916 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went into action at Gueudecourt. They advanced with the 1st Essex Battalion. The Essex were driven back but the Newfoundlanders achieved their objectives.
The Butte de Warlencourt is an ancient burial mound just on the edge of the Albert- Bapaume Road. The Germans constructed deep dugouts in the mound, building artillery positions and machine gun posts into the side and surrounding it with barbed wire. It was a formidable defensive position. During October 1916 several attacks were made on the Butte with limited success. Each time they were pushed back
In early November the trench in front of the Butte was taken by the Guards Division but as the winter closed in and the Battle of the Somme drew to closethe Butte remained in German hands.
Major battles were suspended during the winter months but raids still took place. On one occasion in January 1917 members of the 15th (Scottish) Division dressed in white to creep through the snow over to the Butte de Warlencourt, block some exits and bomb others.