Welcome to the start of the Blue trail in Wycombe Cemetery.
Stop number BLUE 1: You are standing outside the cemetery lodge by the Priory Road entrance gates. Read the story below, told by Daniel Wilks who survived the Great War, and when you are ready to move on click on the dot/circle for G Stone. (Note the new war memorial established here in 2015 for all the local men and women who have given their lives in times of war.)
Archlee Terrace, Flackwell Heath (SWOP BFP06989)
Daniel Wilks 1892-1972 survivor
I am the son of Frederick and Emily Wilks of Flackwell Heath. My mother died young and my father remarried Ė to Elizabeth Cox in 1898 Ė and I and my fatherís new family lived at Archlee Terrace in Flackwell Heath. Like many of the Wilks men I went off to fight in the Great War and I was a driver in the Household Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. I survived the war but my older brother Albert and many of my cousins and uncles werenít so lucky.
So although I am not buried here, unlike my cousin Vincent, Iím here to give you an introduction to the battle.
When Britain went to war in August 1914 it had a tiny army by European standards. This was in part due to the fact that Britain had in the previous 60 years only fought colonial wars against poorly armed enemies. However someone gave the Germans machine guns!
General Haig and others realised that the army needed many more men. The Kitchener poster, 'your country needs you', was part of this drive and lots of young men from Britain and the Empire volunteered. Conscription would only follow later in the war.
These men came from a variety of backgrounds and the Somme was the first time many of them saw action. Many belonged to ĎPalsí battalions, drawn from local communities, clubs and places of work, who had joined up together, trained together and were now to fight together.
Although in Wycombe men signed up for many different regiments, the local regiment was the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Most Wycombe men were then allocated to the 1st Bucks Battalion, which had its own badge Ė a swan, unsurprisingly!
The Somme is a river and region of Northern France. There is no particular military significance of the land but it was where the French and British lines met. The Battle of the Somme was supposed to be a joint Anglo-French affair but in the event many French troops had to be withdrawn to reinforce Verdun so leaving the British to take over the greater burden.
General Haig planned an operation involving some 750,000 men. British confidence was high, particularly among the New Army recruits going into battle for the first time. The attack began after an eight-day bombardment. The bombardment was supposed to have neutralised German machine guns for the British and Allied troops, but the well-fortified German army withstood the bombardment
On July 1st 1916 the heavily laden British troops moved across No Manís Land at 7:30am. The British then soon encountered heavy gunfire and high-explosive shells as they walked towards the German line. If they werenít immediately killed or wounded by machine gun fire, their advances soon stalled once they reached intact barbed wire. That day the British recorded 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. By far the greatest loss of British lives in a single day. The Germans estimated 4,000 killed or wounded and 2,000 captured.
The reasons for failure were quite simply that the bombardment was inadequate; there were too few artillery pieces for the length of front, and most guns were too light to deal any serious damage. Once the British had gone over to No mans land, the delay between the barrage ending and the attack starting gave the untouched Germans time to emerge from their deep concrete dugouts and man their positions. General Haig gave no alternative plan for his July 1st attack. General Haig underestimated the Germans and overestimated the eight-day bombardment that was followed by the British attack.
Operations continued for 141 days. Men from every part of Britain and across the British Empire fought as part of the British Army. Both sides committed millions of men and huge quantities of munitions to the struggle. The Somme can be described as a series of hard-fought battles remembered for the courage and sacrifice of the battalions and regiments involved. The real significance of the Somme was the loss of so many individuals, many of whom were volunteers.
When the offensive was halted in November, more than one million British Empire, French and German servicemen had been wounded, captured, or killed. The battle had significant military, political, industrial and domestic consequences for all the countries involved.
Most Wycombe soldiers were not involved on July 1st but it wasnít long before the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion were involved. A significant number of the Wycombe Somme casualties came from the end of July until mid-August. The 1st Bucks were fighting alongside the Australians to capture Pozieres Ė a small village on a ridge in the centre of the battlefield. You will hear more about this battle from some of the soldiers on the tour, but as you walk past other headstones, notice the date if itís July or August 1916 then itís almost certainly Somme related.
For the town of Wycombe, although men had lost their lives earlier in the war, this was the first time when large numbers of the townís volunteers lost their lives. Most people who fought, returned but the way battalions and regiments were recruited meant that some areas were much more affected than others. For Wycombe, the Somme and Pozieres became infamous.
We hope you enjoy the tour, we have tried to tell a number of different stories about the men who died fighting for Britain 100 years ago. Itís important to recognise their sacrifice and also to remember that the implications of this battle and the war in general are still felt today.
Please see the Wilk(e)s story for more details of the tragedy which befell our families.
Researched and presented by Joe McCann To see the performance on YouTube click here.