Start of the Battle of the Somme
Expected to be a decisive battle and a clear victory for the Allies, the Somme started with a seven-day artillery bombardment. It was the largest ever seen and was intended to destroy the enemy guns, to allow the troops to march across No Mans Land to take the German trenches.
A blunder had revealed the plan to the Germans, who had moved their guns and men to safety. As the British soldiers came over the top at dawn on 1 July 1916, they were cut down by German machine gun fire.
The battle lasted until 19 November 1916. The Allies gained 7 miles of ground, at a cost of 620,000 casualties killed and wounded. The defenders fought hard and the German Second Army also suffered heavy casualties of 500,000 by the end of the battle.
The church of St John the Divine, Kew Road keeps a wooden cross which once stood over the grave of Norman Woodgate Joseph Blows. His family lived in St Mary’s Grove, Richmond, and Norman was baptised at St John’s. He was killed in action 1 July 1916, aged 21. Wooden crosses recording name, rank, number and regiment were erected at burial sites before being replaced by the permanent Portland stone gravestones when war cemeteries were established in the 1920s and 30s. There are fewer than 300 known survivals of these crosses and only 9 in the London area. The wooden crosses were usually repatriated to the next of kin and Joseph’s parents presented his to the church. The cross was displayed as part of the Museum of Richmond Richmond at Home and at War exhibition.