The Somme soldiers’ stories

From the battle-hardened veteran who led an audacious assault on the German lines to the headmaster who yearned to be reunited with his children, Peter Hart recounts the experiences of seven ordinary men who faced terrible danger on the Somme

British gunners busily engaged in putting over a curtain barrage. Somme campaign, France, 1916. (Photo by Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the July 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

“In waiting, there is nothing but anxiety” Captain Charles May found the countdown to zero hour excruciating

On 1 July 1916, Captain Charles May was up against it as he gazed over the parapet towards the German lines at Mametz. He and his men knew that the Germans were ready for them and there were rumours they had hung up a defiant sign on the barbed wire: “When your bombardment starts we are going to bugger off back five miles. Kitchener is buggered. Asquith is buggered. You’re buggered. We’re buggered. Let’s all bugger off home!”

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