The battle of the Somme was one of the most costly battles in the history of warfare. On the first day alone, 19,240 British soldiers were killed and more than 36,000 wounded. Between 1 July 1916, when it began at the height of summer, and 19 November 1916, when it ended in the snow and fog of winter, more than 300,000 British, Commonwealth, French and German soldiers had been killed, and twice that number wounded.
The area of the battlefield is small: fifteen miles in length and six miles at its greatest depth. Today it is an area of peaceful rolling hills, woods and cultivated fields, with its once obliterated villages rebuilt. It is also an area of scattered war cemeteries, and other memorials to the battle.
What happened on the battlefield? Why was the battle fought in the first place? Why was it so prolonged, at such heavy cost? What was its impact on the wider war? These questions have haunted survivors of the battle, the relatives and friends of those killed, and those born long after it. Poets, historians, writers, novelists, journalists, film-makers, teachers and schoolchildren have been among those drawn to its story.