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11 million Brits have an ancestor who fought at the Battle of The Somme

Ancestry records reveal the events of the disastrous first day of the Battle of the Somme one hundred years on

  • Research reveals 11 million people in the UK have a Somme ancestor in their family tree
  • War diaries reveal the terrible tales on the first day of the Somme Offensive
  • Ancestry launches ‘Five things you need to know about the Somme’ video, featuring Sir Tony Robinson

An estimated 11 million Brits are descended from men who fought at the Battle of the Somme1, new population modelling data from Ancestry reveals.

The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July, 1916 – the deadliest day in the history of the British Army. Around 20,000 British Empire soldiers lost their lives that day, but that was just the beginning of a battle that would be become forever associated with the horrors of the First World War.

According to Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genomics, around 11 million Brits have a family member who fought at the Battle. Yet while three quarters (77%) of people would be proud to find an ancestor who fought in the First World War2, many people do not know about what their ancestors went through.

A century on, Ancestry researchers have scoured the UK, WWI War Diaries 1914-1920 collection, which comprehensively detail British and colonial military operations, to uncover the horrors of action on the first day of the Battle.

According to the diary of the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), which suffered the worst battalion losses of the day, troops assaulted in four lines, but the machine guns were “so deadly that the 3rd and 4th lines failed to get across “no-mans-land”. The Battalion saw 27 Officer casualties and 750 casualties of other ranks in just one day. 

One of the most detailed diaries in the collection, belonging to the 7th Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment), tells of an “unfortunate mistake” by one of the commanding officers that saw many men fall victim to the German guns, when his company assaulted without the support of the battalion:

“As soon as they began to climb over our parapet terrific machine gun fire was opened by the enemy and the company was about at once wiped out. The survivors lay… some 25 yards in front of our wire until dark”.

Following a later “feeble” bombardment, “the battalion assaulted and were met by a murderous machine gun and rifle fire, officers and men were literally mown down and were finally brought to a standstill about half way across to the enemy trenches. 13 Officers and over 300 men became casualties in about three minutes.”

Records also reveal a number of famous names who fought at the Battle of the Somme, including the then-Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s son Raymond, who was killed in action.

  • Raymond Asquith Asquith was a lieutenant in the front company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards on 15th June 1916, when they advanced, according to his Battalion’s war diary. British heavy artillery had awoken the Germans, who were ready for the assault, and the company was met with machine gun fire instantly – Asquith was killed at once. His record in the UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920 collection reveals Asquith was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal posthumously
  • Seigfried SassoonWar poet Sassoon famously denounced the first day of the Battle of the Somme as ‘a sunlit picture of hell’ but despite his obvious discontent with his circumstances he, like Asquith, was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal, as well as a 1914-15 Star, according to the UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920 collection

Despite 11 million people being related to a Somme hero, and considering the horrors of the Battle, few people know much about it. As an introduction, Ancestry ventured into the depths of the National Archives with actor and historian Sir Tony Robinson to reveal five key facts people need to know about the Somme – a good start for anyone wishing to learn more about the Battle.

The stories related by Sir Tony include that of Sidney Lewis, who lied about his age to enlist at the age of 12 and then found himself stationed in northern France aged 13, only to be sent home after his worried mother sent his birth certificate to the War Office. The video also highlights the inexperience of the brave volunteers that made up the ranks of ‘Lord Kitchener’s Army’, as well as the first use of the tank.

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments: “The Battle of the Somme was without a doubt one of the most significant battles in British history, and with 11 million descendants of soldiers in the UK, it’s one that needs to be remembered. The horrors of first day of the Battle were unprecedented and have not been matched since.

“The centenary of the Battle will hopefully inspire many to remember those that fell and learn more. If you want to know if your relative was one of the millions of men who took part, you can investigate our records for yourself for free over the weekend of the Somme centenary. You never know what you might find, a death in action or even a medal recipient.”

To search Ancestry's WWI Collections, including Service Records, Pension Records, Medal Indexes and Award Rolls and War Diaries, and more than 17 billion other historical records worldwide, visit www.ancestry.co.uk.

 

ENDS

 

1 Based on Ancestry’s Forgotten Heroes research – full methodology below. Brits refers to those who form the ‘natural population’. This includes only those who would be related to British soldiers who fought in the war, and not those whose ancestors migrated to Britain following the First World War

2 According to data from Ancestry’s Global Family History Report

FORGOTTEN HEROES METHODOLOGY

When the ‘Forgotten Heroes’ research was first undertaken in 2014, Ancestry projected how the 1918 population has grown, accounting for migration. The population projection mapped the growth of this migrant population, which was then subtracted from the modern adult population to show the growth of the ‘natural population’. Ancestry discovered the cumulative immigrant population was 7,215,616, which can then be taken from the UK population of 64.6 million to give a ‘natural population’ of 57,381,184.

From here, Ancestry calculated the proportion of the 1940 population was made up of veterans, their wives and children. The population was estimated by taking the number of Somme survivors (it is estimated that 2,018,158 men survived) and working out how many married using ONS marriage rates (85.5% of men married between 1918 and 1940), which gives 1,725,525 veterans marrying (so 3,451,050 veterans and their wives) and 5,521,680 children (fertility rate 3.2). Therefore, in total there were 8,972,730 veterans, wives and children in the UK in 1940.

This population made up 18.7% of the 1940 population (estimated at 48m – no 1941 census). At steady growth rates, this 18.7% of the 57,381,184 ‘natural’ modern population equates to 10,730,281 people who should have a Somme ancestor in their family tree.

 

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