It was on 1 July 1916, one hundred years ago, that one of history’s deadliest battles would begin. The Battle of the Somme is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles in military history. In total the battle spanned 141 days – ending on 18 November 1916 – and saw the British Army alone suffer more than 400,000 casualties. Now, on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Britain prepares to remember the sacrifices made as the First World War centenary commemorations, which began in 2014, continue.
What was the Battle of the Somme?
In the summer of 1916 the British and French armies launched a joint offensive against the German forces in the Somme region of France. General Sir Douglas Haig of the British Army had hoped to break German lines at the Somme and bring to an end the deadlock of trench warfare. He had also hoped that this offensive would ‘battle-harden’ his troops in the process – many of whom were inexperienced volunteers recruited following the outbreak of war. So, on 1 July 1916, British troops rose from their trenches and advanced across no man’s land.
General Haig’s ‘Big Push’ offensive would prove ineffective and as the soldiers advanced they were met by a hail of German gunfire. On the first day alone the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 deaths, making it the bloodiest day in British military history. 141 days of fierce battle would follow, with the Battle of the Somme finally coming to an end on 18 November 1916.
It was a pivotal battle that would prove to be a turning point in the First World War. Tanks were deployed by the British Army for the first time. Crucial military lessons were learned and, as a result, new tactics, weapons and techniques for coordinating attacks were applied in future battles, all of which would contribute to the eventual allied victory in 1918.
Regardless of its impact on the outcome of the war, the Battle of the Somme will forever be remembered for the devastating death toll. By the time the Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916, the number of British casualties had risen to 419,654, while the total casualties counted on all sides reached more than one million. The human cost at the Battle of the Somme was appalling and, for many families, remains the most painful and devastating battle of the First World War.
The 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme commemorative coin
The Battle of the Somme commemorative coin has been released as part of The Royal Mint’s five-year programme of commemoration of the First World War. Produced in collaboration with The Imperial War Museum, the programme, which began in 2014, tells the story of the emotive journey from outbreak to armistice.
The design for the Battle of the Somme coin, by coinage artist John Bergdahl, depicts a poignant scene from the terrible event. Infantrymen advance into no man’s land in the foreground, while the significance of the debut of the tank at the Battle of the Somme is depicted in the background of the design. The coin’s edge lettering, ‘DEAD MEN CAN ADVANCE NO FURTHER’, is an apt quotation taken from Major-General Sir Beauvoir de Lisle, Commander of the 29th British Division.
John Bergdahl’s association with The Royal Mint stretches back many years. His recent work includes the £2 coin marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and he also designed a coin commemorating the 100th anniversary the Battle of Jutland, which features alongside this coin in the First World War 2016 Six-Coin Set.
It also seems fitting that this year we honour the role of the Army in the First World War on a £2 coin. You’ll be able to find this in your change later this year, so keep your eyes peeled and let us know when you find it. Join fellow coin hunters on Twitter and tweet using #CoinHunt, or share your latest finds on our Facebook page.