“At 7:30 a.m., on July 1, thousands of British and French troops began their advance across No Man’s Land in broad daylight toward the German positions to open the Battle of the Somme. The result would be slaughter—more than 57,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed, wounded or missing—the heaviest combat losses ever suffered by the British Army in a single day.
The sector of the front at Beaumont-Hamel where the Newfoundland Regiment would see action was supposed to be taken by surprise, but the Germans knew the attack was coming. In addition, the initial Allied bombardment failed to damage most of the German defences.
At about 9:15 a.m., the Newfoundlanders—forming part of the 29th British Division—attacked from a support trench nicknamed St. John’s Road. They advanced from this trench, which was actually behind the front line, because of the sheer number of soldiers involved in earlier attacks who were dead or wounded and clogging the front trenches. This meant that the Newfoundlanders had to traverse more than 200 metres before they even made it to the Allies’ own front line. Once they made it to No Man’s Land, they were then expected to cross through tangles of barbed wire to reach the enemy trenches more than 500 metres away.
As the Newfoundlanders advanced toward the enemy, there was a tree partway down the slope that marked the spot where German fire seemed to become particularly intense. This gnarled tree was nicknamed the “danger tree” by the Newfoundland troops and it marked the spot where many of them would fall that morning. As they walked into the hail of machine gun and artillery fire, it was said that many of them tucked their chins in, almost like they were walking into the teeth of a blizzard back home. But this time it was not snow flying all around them—the Newfoundland Regiment would be practically decimated in less than half an hour of intense German fire.
July 1st would only be the first day of more than four brutal months of fighting during the Battle of the Somme, a campaign in which Canada would also see significant action. By the time it was all over, the Allies would have more than 650,000 soldiers killed, wounded, missing or taken as a prisoner, and both the Allies and the Germans would each lose about 200,000 lives. For this incredible cost, the Allies moved the front line forward about 10 kilometres.”
[Source: “Battle Scars” by Rex Murphy, in CANADASHISTORY.CA, June-July 2016]