The Battle of the Somme was fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916. It has come to epitomise the horror and futility of the whole war. After months of preparation and several delays, the offensive was launched on 1 July amidst high hopes that this ‘big push’ would be decisive in forcing the Germans to come to terms. Although many military planners realised that a decisive victory was unlikely, expectations among politicians and civilians, fuelled by inaccurate press reports, were high.
The enormous casualties and the failure to achieve a decisive victory, coming on top of a series of crises, brought Asquith’s government down. The lives of nearly all the subjects of this exhibition, politicians, soldiers and civilians, became focused on the Somme in the second half of 1916 so that we can catch glimpses of this defining moment through contemporary eyes. It was to be the end of the war not just for the Prime Minister and several of his key colleagues, including Harcourt, but also for Macmillan who was severely wounded, and for Butterworth who was killed at Pozières in August 1916.
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