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There has been a settlement on the site of the modern-day village of La Boisselle since pre-Roman times, and the D 929 Albert–Bapaume road actually follows the course of a Roman road. Prior to the sustained carnage experienced during WW1, the area suffered serious damage after the Battle of Bapaume during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) when the French Army failed in its attempts to relieve the besieged city of Péronne.
Tunnelling and blowing mines under enemy defences has been a form of warfare since medieval times and mining on the Western Front during the First World War grew to match the scale of a major industry. The Germans were the first to explode mines, underneath Indian positions at Festubert, early in the conflict, and it wasn`t until early 1915 that the British began to form tunnelling companies. Both sides recruited from the homeland pits to form the core of units skilled in the art of mining while many soldiers with no experience or desire to work and fight underground were drafted in.
The first British mine was detonated under Hill 60 at Ypres in April of 1915. Thereafter an underground war developed with each side burrowing under the shell-pocked earth, blowing mines under enemy trenches and bursting through into enemy tunnels to thwart their progress. Small explosive mines called camouflets were often used to collapse the walls and roofs.The British steadily gained the upper hand, however, and mines were a major component in the opening of the Somme offensive in 1916, and again at Messines Ridge the following year. The complex geology of the Ypres Salient proved to be far less forgiving than the Somme chalk.
Battle of Albert. Laying a charge in a mine chamber. Note the officer using Geophone. July 1916.
Above: This plaque remembers that vast numbers of canaries and mice were sacrificed as an early warning system to alert tunnellers to dangerous gasses. The finished work, named the `Tunneller`s Friends`, features as part of Scotland`s National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle.*
During the early hours on 1 July 1916, the Allied troops assembled in trenches and sunken roads, waiting to go `over the top` or, in the case of the second wave, move forward and reinforce the initial attack. The sappers who had dug the tunnels under the German lines, and packed the mines with explosives, could relax and have a smoke as the minutes ticked by, knowing that their contribution was over, for the time being at least.Seventeen mines were blown under the German front line. The best-known photograph of a mine going up was taken at 07:20 hrs on 1 July 1916 by cameraman Ernest Brooks. The controversial and erroneous decision was taken to detonate the mine under the heavily defended Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt eight minutes before the others.
On the right is probably the most famous image of the British Army in action on the Western Front during the Great War. It`s a still from the British film `The Battle of the Somme` taken from a moving sequence purportedly showing British soldiers moving forward through wire at the start of the assault on the opening day.
Although this scene is now generally considered to have been staged for the camera, possibly at a Trench Mortar School well behind the lines, this image and the film sequence from which it is derived, have regularly been used to represent trench warfare and British troops `going over the top`.
The film which was shot by two official cinematographers, Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, had a running time of 74 minutes, and was released on 21 August 1916 to great acclaim.
In Britain, around 20 million people thronged to the cinemas in the first six weeks alone and it was distributed in eighteen other countries. A second film, covering a later phase of the Somme Offensive, was released in 1917 as `The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks`. In 1920 the footage was preserved in the film archive of the Imperial War Museum.
British troops watched amazed as, across no man`s land, German soldiers were launched into the air and fell to be buried by the tons of falling earth, whether they were dead or not. The roar of the explosion, however, announced to defenders all along the line that an Allied assault was imminent and the surviving Germans on Hawthorn Ridge (left) and elsewhere hurriedly ran to the rim of the craters and set up machine guns.
Minutes later, 60,000 British soldiers moved forward, most of them heavily laden with weapons, ammo and ancillary equipment, many under the illusion that the force of the massive blasts would have rendered the enemy incapable of responding. Instead, the first day of July 1916 became the blackest day in the history of the British Army who sustained almost 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of whom were killed.
Right: Another iconic image taken during the Somme Offensive, this one shows the 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade, part of the 34th Division, advancing from the Tara-Usna Line to attack La Boisselle on the morning of 1 July, the opening day of the battle. The 34th Division suffered heavier losses than any other division that day.
The panoramic view below, taken in September 1916, shows the battlefield at La Boisselle and the Cross erected to several members of the 34th Division, who were killed in action on 1st July, 1916. This original memorial was 20 yards to the left of the roadway on the hill crest overlooking the giant mine crater. The view from the rim includes Becourt Wood, Sausage Valley and on to Fricourt, Mametz and Carnoy.
Battle of Albert: The old photo, below right, shows some of the shattered remains of the village of La Boiselle on 2 July 1917.
Above Left: German trenches near La Boisselle under bombardment shortly before the British Army launched its assault on 1 July.
Above Right: Men of the 10th Battalion, the Worcestershire Regiment, escorting German prisoners captured during the attack on La Boisselle, 3rd July 1916.
Right: British infantrymen give a helping hand to wounded German prisoners near La Boisselle on the same date. They are both wearing their equipment in 'fighting order'. One has an additional bandolier of ammunition, and each has an anti-gas PH (phenate hexamine) helmet in a small bag hung at the front. A first day objective, La Boisselle fell on 4 July.
Above left: German prisoners being brought in on 3rd July 1916 after the capture of La Boisselle, by the troops of the 19th Division. La Boisselle can be seen in the background. Above right: A bomb carrying party of the 1st Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment) going up to the front line at La Boisselle on 6th July 1916. (La Boisselle is in left centre distance).
Wounded awaiting transportation to base hospitals near Albert and German heavy guns captured as the Somme Offensive dragged on towards autumn.
Although the Hawthorn mine was the first to be detonated, it is now the Lochnagar Crater, to the east, near La Boisselle, which remains to illustrate the extent of the devastation that occurred along the Somme, within the first few minutes on that first day. The grisly scene below right, photographed on 21 September 1917, shows British graves with human bones on the floor of the Lochnagar mine crater at La Boisselle,
Please bear in mind that all images on this website are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark. The black & white photographs from the Imperial War Museum`s collection have been used courtesy of its `Share & Reuse` policy and are also subject to copyright restrictions.
This bench commemorates the action of the Grimsby Chums of the Lincolnshire Regiment on Saturday 1 July 1916.
Above: Bringing in wounded British soldiers and wounded German prisoners from La Boisselle, Albert-Bapaume road, 3rd July 1916. La Boisselle can just be made out in the distance in the left-hand shot with shells bursting in background. The images below show troops of the Gordon Highlanders and ammunition limbers moving up to the forward area on the Albert - Bapaume road and a destroyed ammo dump near La Boisselle.
Below: The French Great War Memorial at La Boisselle honouring local military personnel and their allies who lost their lives during the conflict.