There can be few battles more firmly imprinted on our national consciousness than the Somme, and with good reason. Its first day, 1 July 1916, was the bloodiest in British military history, with a butcher’s bill roughly equivalent to half the strength of the regular army at the time of writing. It lasted from the beginning of July to late November, and, though the balance of overall casualties remains a matter of dispute, it was certainly the most costly battle ever fought by the British.
Nor was the loss only quantitative. In a deep and abiding sense the Somme represented a collective loss of innocence. So many units of the New Armies were blooded on those wide-horizoned uplands between Albert and Bapaume. Thousands of regulars who had survived the first two years of the war