ERNIE Thomas is a research volunteer at The Keep Military Museum in Dorchester and he is keen for future generations to understand the Battle of the Somme and for the anniversary he has put together this article for readers:

100 years ago the First World War had been raging for nearly two years.

In an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front, the Allied High Command planned a major offensive along a 23 mile front in northern France – the Battle of the Somme.

The British Commander in Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, had not wanted to allow the raw recruits of his New Army to fight in July as they were not ready for battle. However he was forced to do so by politicians anxious to take the pressure off the French, who were already fighting a bloody battle at Verdun. A long preliminary artillery bombardment was intended to pulverise the German defences so that Allied troops could advance and push back the enemy.

Zero hour for the battle was set for 7.30am on Saturday 1st July 1916. All along the front line officers’ whistles sounded and British soldiers moved forward at walking pace towards the enemy positions.

The men of the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment had moved overnight to a position near to Authuille Wood and they started to advance through the wood towards the enemy lines.

Expecting all opposition to have been wiped out, they were surprised to find that the Germans, having sheltered from the British shelling in deep dugouts, were ready and waiting for them. What happened next is graphically described in his diary by Company Sergeant-Major Ernest Shephard, whose company (B Company) was at the rear of the column of advancing Dorsets: “At 7.30am we moved to the attack by companies at 200yds intervals. Enemy sending heavy shrapnel all over the place searching for us. We had a number of casualties and passed by a number of killed and wounded from our leading companies.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

DESTRUCTION: British artillery column moving through trees destroyed by heaving shelling

We had a terrible dose of machine gun fire sweeping us through the wood. Had to wait on the track waiting for the brigade ahead of us to to get forward, most infernal noise all the time, had a rough time from enemy artillery. Finally we got to Wood Post.

This lies on the forward edge of the wood, a lot of killed and wounded there. I saw the last platoon of A Coy going over the open ground in front of the wood. Half of this platoon were killed and almost all the remainder wounded in the crossing and I at once realised that some part of the attack had gone radically wrong, as we were being enfiladed by batteries of enemy machine guns from the ridge on our right held by the enemy.”

Lieutenant Charles Douie of the Dorsets had previously reconnoitred the area and wrote: “I came to a bridge over a defile which our plan of attack required us to cross, and examined it with interest. A few days later the bridge, marked with unerring accuracy by the German machine gunners, was heaped with our dead and wounded so as to be almost impassable; a platoon 48 strong on one side emerged with a strength of 12.”

Meanwhile, some three miles away to the south, opposite a fortified village called Fricourt, the 6th Battalion of the Dorsets were also in action on 1st July. They fared rather better than their comrades in the 1st Battalion as initially they were held back in support of the advancing troops and so escaped much of the shelling and machine gun fire that ravaged other units involved in the first push towards the village.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

CASUALTIES: Dead German soldiers in a captured trench

Originally ordered to advance through No Man’s Land, the area between the British and German front lines that was already strewn with lines of fallen men, the Battalion was saved when the attack was cancelled ten minutes before they were due to go over the top.

By the end of the fateful first day of the battle, British casualties totalled 57,470 men, of whom 19,240 had been killed, making 1st July 1916 one of the blackest days in the history of the British Army.

So many families would receive the dreaded telegram from the War Office telling them of the death of a loved one and many an officer had the sad task of writing letters of condolence to grieving relatives.

The uncle of Shipton Gorge resident Pamela Bates, Lieutenant George Ewart Mockridge of the Machine Gun Corps and the 6th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, was killed on the first day of the battle.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

Educated at Clifton College, he had been awarded a scholarship to Oxford University, but was prevented by the war from taking this up.

A memorial window to George can be seen in St Mary’s Church, Longfleet Road, Poole. Pamela’s father, Lieutenant Albert Henry Mockridge of the Royal Field Artillery, survived the war.

The Mockridge family are pictured around 1903, the young brothers George and Albert being at the left and centre of the picture respectively.

Sadly, tragedy was to strike the family again in the Second World War. In 1942, Pamela’s brother George Albert Mockridge, then serving as a Flying Officer with the RAF in the Far East, was killed in action at the age of 23.

The Battle of the Somme came to an end on 18th November 1916 as winter set in. Few significant gains had been made by the British Army and there were more than 600,000 Allied casualties.

A memorial to the fallen of the Dorsetshire Regiment in the Great War was erected near the village of Authuille and dedicated on 8th May 2011.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

The memorial was carved by sculptors Zoe Cull and Alex Evans at their workshop at Bockhampton, near Dorchester. It bears the regimental and county crests as well as a quotation from Thomas Hardy: “Victory crowns the just.”

St Martin’s Church, Shipton Gorge is holding a special Somme Centenary Remembrance Service at 5.30 p.m. on Sunday 3 July. All are welcome to join the congregation to honour the memory of those who fought and died in the battle, especially the men of our county regiment, The Dorsetshire Regiment.

Mr Thomas said: “The Keep Military Museum’s interactive trench experience will help you take a glimpse through the eyes of a soldier exactly 100 years ago.

Come and walk into a First World War trench and learn about life for a Tommy in 1916.

“Also, the museum will be holding a study day on the subject of the Battle of the Somme on Saturday 16th July. Further details are available from the website at