The Battle of the Somme

The recent commemorations of the start of the the WW1 Battle of the Somme, both in France and elsewhere, have deservedly had a lot of air-time on TV.  I found it very inspiring in particular to watch the ceremony held at Thiepval and to see that so many people cared enough to make that journey and to be there to mark the occasion.

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit Thiepval a few years ago.  It was very moving to see for the first time the name of my great-uncle, William Neighbour Wakefield, inscribed on the huge Lutyens memorial.  This was, of course, built to commemorate the missing of the Somme.  Ironically, my great-uncle was nowhere near the Somme when he was killed in action on 12 April 1918.  He was in Belgium at the time and it was an administrative error which led to his name being on the Thiepval Memorial rather than on the Menin Gate at Ypres (which we have also visited).  Nevertheless, on our return home I submitted information and a photograph to those who compile the information for the database available in the Thiepval Visitor Centre and felt pleased that I had been able to contribute in this way.

Of the many projects underway during these years of commemoration of the WW1, the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War   is a fantastic initiative.  Over seven and a half million life stories have now been uploaded to the site by members of the public.

Many projects are also underway at county level, and Surrey has recently launched Surrey in the Great War . When I first met the enthusiastic team behind this project I was inspired to send them some information on the Woking Wakefield brothers.  Unfortunately the total lack of acknowledgment rather dampened my enthusiasm for sending in anything further, but I should probably now put that setback behind me and see what else I can share now that the website is up and running.  Perhaps I’ll make that a summer project!

It is many years since I last visited Surrey History Centre, but we did so on 2 July for the screening of the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’.  This film was hugely popular when it was shown in UK cinemas in 1916:  many watched it in the hope of spotting a loved one.  Now the film has been remastered by the Imperial War Museum, with a new music score by Laura Rossi which works incredibly well with the silent film.  The screening was preceeded by a talk by Dr Emma Hanna of the University of Kent and the Gateways to the WW1 project , in which she gave very useful background to why and how the film was created and how it was subsequently viewed.  Although some of the scenes were staged before or after the event, the scenes of wounded men and German prisoners cannot fail to have an impact.  Despite the fact that we know it is a sanitised version of conditions, the film nevertheless conveys something of the life of the troops both behind and on the front line and is therefore of great interest to those of us with personal connections to those who fought on the Western Front.

I would certainly recommend seeing the film if you can – you can find out more at

Thiepval Memorial
Thiepval Memorial

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