"The Somme Battlefields" BBC TV 2006

Battlefields of the First World War 1914-18. THE SOMME.      (2006 BBC TV Production)    (1991 – CONTINUING)

 Intended to be a decisive breakthrough, the Battle of the Somme became instead a byword for futile and indiscriminate slaughter, with General Haig’s tactics remaining controversial even today.

 The British planned to attack on a 24km (15 mile) front between Serre, north of the Ancre, and Curlu, north of the Somme. Five French divisions would attack on a 13km (eight mile) front south of the Somme, between Curlu and Peronne.

 Allied artillery pounded German lines for a week before the attack, firing 1.6 million shells. However, the German trenches, tunnels and dugouts were heavily fortified and when the bombardment began, they simply moved underground and waited.

At 7.30am on 1 July 1916, the barrage lifted and the whistles blew to signal the start of the attack. With the shelling over, the Germans left their bunkers and set up their heavy machine-guns. As the 11 British divisions left their trenches and began struggling through the barbed wire entanglements towards the German lines, the machine guns started and the slaughter began. Although a few units managed to reach German trenches, they could not exploit their gains and were driven back. By the end of the day, the British had suffered 60,000 casualties, of whom 20,000 were dead… Sixty percent of all officers involved on the first day were killed. The battle continued for a further 5 months.

Torrential rains in October turned the battlegrounds into a muddy quagmire and in mid-November the battle ended, with the Allies having advanced only 8km (five miles). The British suffered around 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000 and the Germans around 650,000.

 Amongst those killed were three of my Great-Uncles, Robert (Bob) Dean, aged 27, his brother Charles (Charlie) Dean, aged 20 and William (Billy) Warren, a talented artist, aged 19.

 Since 1991 I havs spent many hours working, in summer and winter, at various sites in the Battlefields including Hawthorn Ridge Crater, High Wood and Mametz Wood (where both Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen saw action).

I have held numerous solo exhibitions in the town of Albert (epicentre of the battle) and in 1994 I was made an Honorary Citizen (Citoyen d‘ honneur).

This body of work, together with that from Verdun, has been exhibited at numerous major public galleries in Britain including Blackburn, Durham and Birmingham, and also by invitation at Volksbank Halle, Rheinland Pfalz, Germany and at the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.