Somme Battlefield Bayonet
Today’s object we have, for your viewing pleasure, a rusty bayonet. But this is a rusty bayonet with a story, for it was found on the Somme battlefield, and recently donated to the Museum. Whilst I would like to be able to assign this bayonet to a particular Black Watch battalion, a number of which fought on the Somme, sadly I cannot. What I can say however is that it came from the vicinity of High Wood, where The Black Watch did fight.
Even nearly 100 years on the Somme battle has the ability to divide
opinion. To some is epitomises the waste and futility of the war, whilst others see it in a revisionist way as the battle which finished the professional German field army, and laid the first step on the road to victory.
The battle, which commenced on the 1st July and finished on the 18th November 1916, was one of the largest battles of the First World War and saw nearly a million casualties on both sides, as the Anglo French forces punched a 6 mile deep salient into the German lines. Initially it was intended to be a French attack, supported by the British Fourth Army to the north. However, the opening of the Battle of Verdun on the 21st February 1916 meant that French forces were drawn away to that front, and as a result the main emphasis for the battle now fell on the British Army. More importantly the ambitious aim of the combined all-out assault on the German lines was whittled down until the battle became little more than an attack to relieve the extreme pressure on the French front at Verdun. The first day saw the German Second Army heavily defeated in the southern sector whilst to the north the British Army, with its mixture of what was left of the 1914 Regular battalions, the Territorial battalions, and the New Army of volunteers, mainly failed against the prepared German defences and as a result the British Army lost the largest amount of casualties suffered in a single day’s action in its history.
The Black Watch had a number of battalions fighting on the Somme Front, these included the 1st, 4/5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 12th. The last battalion, being a Labour Battalion, were not involved in the fighting, but did sterling work repairing roads and digging entrenchments.
The battle itself is traditionally divided into 3 stages. Stage 1, 1st to 17th July; Stage 2 July to September 1916; Stage 3 September to November 1916. These stages encompass the battles of Albert, Bazentin Ridge and Fromelles (1st Stage). Delville Wood, Pozieres Ridge, Guillemont and Ginchy (2nd Stage). Flers–Courcelette, Morval, Transloy Ridges, Thiepval Ridge, Ancre Heights and Ancre (3rd Stage). The Black Watch were given Battle Honours for Albert, Bazentin, Delville Wood, Pozieres, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Thiepval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights and Ancre.
By the time the battle had ground to a halt in the winter of 1916 Haig had achieved his main objective in that the Somme campaign had relieved the pressure on the Verdun Front. By fighting when he did Haig forced the Germans to fight two costly campaigns, further eroding their ability to maintain a professional army, as well as assisting in the prevention of the defeat of France. Indeed a commonly used quote by Captain Von Hentig of the Guards Reserve Division states that the Somme was “the muddy grave of the German Field Army.” Though the exact provenance of this quote is uncertain, what is not in doubt is that contemporary and near contemporary German accounts of the battle all emphasise the hammering they received on the Somme Front. The cost in lives though makes grim reading to more modern viewers and provides most of the criticism of Haig and Rawlinson’s handling of the battle. Though ‘exact’ numbers for the battle are often quoted it is remarkably difficult to pin down a figure for either side. The most modern estimate places British casualties (killed, missing and wounded) as 419,654 with French casualties placed at 202,577. German figures for the battle are placed between 400,000 and 680,000.