Carnage on the Somme

July 1. The First Day of the Somme began with high hopes but ended as the worst day in the history of the British Army. After a huge week-long artillery barrage, British troops went over the top to attack German trenches on the chalk slopes north of the River Somme in France.

But the shelling had failed to damage the German dugouts, some 30 feet deep, and the defending machine gunners were presented with the unbelievable targets of wave upon wave of khaki-clad soldiers walking uphill towards them. The slaughter began. In a matter of hours, 20,000 young Britons were dead and 40,000 wounded.

The Battle of the Somme raged until it bogged down in the November mud, by which time Britain and Germany had each suffered about 500,000 casualties. The Somme became a byword for needless slaughter and the death of idealism.

An early tankSeptember 15. The first tanks rolled into action on the Western Front. To disguise these top-secret "land ships," they had been referred to as water tanks. The name stuck. At first, the lumbering tanks struck terror into German troops as they crushed the barbed wire and trenches which had proved so impregnable in earlier battles. But the Germans were hard, experienced fighters who quickly learned that a determined field-gun crew could knock out tank after tank, especially when they were used piecemeal and without infantry support.

May 31. At the Battle of Jutland, the only major naval engagement of the First World War, the main British and German fleets traded broadsides during a day and a night. The Germans sank twice as many ships as the Royal Navy and claimed victory. The truth was rather different. Despite taking a mauling, the Royal Navy held the North Sea for the rest of the war. The Kaiser's fleet never again ventured out into the open sea..


In brief

January 7.
Dudley Quarter Sessions began with only one case, a theft, to be heard.

April 14.
Walsall Rural District Council heard complaints from farmers who couldn't employ children to pick potatoes without first filling forms "asking every conceivable question."

July 22.
A Walsall couple were prosecuted for neglecting their five children, two of whom were found to have rickets.The husband was sentenced to six months' hard labour.

August 10.
A house in North Street, Wolverhampton, was demolished by a runaway fruit and vegetable wagon.

December 20.
One of the biggest fires in Shrewsbury's history lit up the Midland sky. James Cock and Sons tannery went up in a blaze so enormous that locals "thought the Zeppelins had come." Damage was put at 50,000 - many millions in today's value.