On July 1, 1916, thousands of young men went ‘over the top’ in a highly-disciplined response to the precisely-timed signal at 07.30am.
They advanced as planned towards the German trenches, confidently expecting that the German wire had been cut and their defences ruined.
They were wrong.
German wire, machine gun emplacements and artillery, although damaged and weakened, was able to respond ruthlessly, cutting down line after line of young men, and bringing chaos and catastrophe to the battlefield.
The Staffordshire Territorials were among those troops, advancing on Gommecourt. The casualties among the four battalions of Staffordshire - including men from Wolverhampton, Walsall, Stafford, Rugely and Lichfield, as well as the 56th London Division - amounted to almost 7,000 men.
On the 100th anniversary year of the Battle of the Somme, a group of students from Highfields visited the battlefield to pay their respects to those who lost their lives.
The students were not, in age, far removed from those brave 18 and 19-year-olds who fought, or the young women who staffed the casualty clearing stations and field hospitals as nurses and VADs.
They have now created a film of remembrance in honour of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
WATCH THE FILM HERE:
History teacher, Mrs C.Hall, who organised the trip, said: “Our students were stunned by the beauty and peace of the cemeteries – but horrified and awestruck by the scale of the slaughter they represented.
“We explored the history and course of the battle, and literally walked the field of four-and-a-half months of continuous conflict at Beaumont Hamel, witnessing the closeness of enemy to enemy and the terror of locations where death in the crossfire or death by friendly fire was an equal danger.
“We donned original tin helmets and toured the caves in Arras, where thousands of Tommies will have rested and gladly exchanged the noise and hell of battle for the stale air, but blessed quiet, underground.
“The students were greatly struck by the irony of the peace of the cemeteries in the context of the scale of destruction and violence on the battlefields. This was brought home for them, amongst other things, by the literature and diaries we read while we were on the battlefields, from soldiers who served there.
“They wanted to pay their respects and to honour the sacrifice made. The result is the film, which speaks for itself. The party leaders are very proud and grateful to the filmmakers and Mr D.Cooper, from the English department, who was their mentor in making it.
“It is a very fitting contribution to our commemoration of the centenary of the battle.”