Today marks the 1st Day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, serving as part of 4th Division, were assigned to attack north of the heavily fortified village of Beaumont Hamel. Today also marks the worst day for the regiment in terms of casualties, as all 26 officers were either killed or wounded, and 559 Other Ranks were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. As a result, there are few detailed accounts of the battle.
We do have this letter in the collection, written by 21271 Private Albert Blaber who was one of the wounded from 1st July. In it he describes the horrors of the opening day of the Battle to his wife. The letter text is below:
No 9 A Ward West. Lord Derby’s War Hospital
Warrington, Lancs. Saturday July 8th
I am further away from home than I was when I were in the firing line but thank God I am on the right side of the water, darling I can hardly believe that I am in Hospital, for it was like coming from hell to heaven, for only those that went through the awful fight on Saturday July 1 and the next day, could describe what I mean by coming out of the gates of Hell.
My darling you have no need to worry about me for you can rest contented now that your hubby is safe for a while at least. We are in one of the finest War Hospitals in England, lovly rooms, everything for the comfort of the Wounded, and the sisters are very nice, do anything for us. I think we deserve everything in the way of comfort after what we had been through. I suppose you have read about us in the papers for I see that our regiment is mentioned and we deserve it, for we had very heavy losses. Our division lost over 8,000 men, we were mown down like corn by Machine Gun fire and shell fire, our dead lay in front of our barbed wire in hundreds. I shall never forget the awful sight We never took any prisoners on our part of the fight for the simple reason we killed every german we came across. Our Brigade the 88th were the third line to go over the 86th and 87th we suffering heavy losses, and the Germans shot any amount of our poor wounded men, that got our blood up, so we spared neither wounded or otherwise after we saw what had happened.
My darling it was a frightful sight to see our wounded laying in front of the trenches at the mercy of heavy shell fire, so plenty of us were eager to volunteer to bring them in. Some we had to leave after we had made them comfortable for we were losing men heavily and it broke the heart to have to leave them, for it was an order for us to do so for we were told to leave the wounded to get on the best they could as all the men who were up to then unhurt were needed for another attack. We took the first line of trenches, but owing to heavy losses we were unable to hold on, but while we were there we done great slaughter to the Germans, for we found there were dug outs full of them, so we bombed them out of it we showed no mercy for anybody, for what I described earlier in the letter, for a lot surrendered to us, holding up there hands, shouting ‘Mercy Kamard’ which means comrade in English and they got it in the shape of a bomb or a bayonet. Our part of the line was in Thiepal [Thiepval] Wood, where the germans had command over us for we had to attack about 700 yards of no mans land. You would have laughed to see us running from one shell hole to another, of course darling it was no laughing matter for I do not want to go through it again.
I was wounded on Sunday night while bringing in our wounded and up to yesterday I only had a temporary bandage on. We looked awful sights when we arrived at the hospital, for I had not had a shave for 15 days and not even a wash, and my clothes was covered with mud and blood, and I also was lowsy as I could be. We were packed like sardines on the hospital boat as there were hundreds still waiting in France. What a treat to lay in a nice bed. I had not taken off my boots for 23 days up to yesterday so you can quite understand how I felt. My darling I have lost everything pipes cigs tobacco shaving soap, not a thing did I bring away. I brought a birthday card for little lily, and also some cards for Dick and Dolly and I have lost them so you can relize how I am fixed, do not trouble about sending anythink until I know how things are going. I have not a penny in the world to help myself with.
You can send a 2/.. P O if you can spare it for I can manage with that then I shall be able to get some stamps, how funny it will seem to have to stamp our letters. You can write to the address, but only send letters or papers, do not send parcels for we are not allowed them. Will you kindly let Mr Browne know where I am and tell him I apolygize for not writing to him at present but will do so at the first chance I get.
I wish little Lily a happy birthday, I am sorry I shall not be able to send her a card as I have no money to get one. Perhaps you could send her one, and say it is from her daddy. Remember me to all at home.
I must close hoping to see you and the children before long sending my fondest love and kisses from your ever loving hubby Bert, you can show father this letter if you like.