TODAY, July 1, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme when British soldiers went ‘over the top’ to attack the Germans in the First World War.
Here we pay tribute to those men from Redditch who fought in that great battle and in some cases, gave their lives in the early days of the offensive.
It is estimated that some 50 soldiers from Redditch died during the course of the battle, which was designed to relieve the pressure on the French caused by the Battle of Verdun further to the south.
July 1, 1916 on the Somme was also the worst day of the British Army, which suffered in the region of 57,470 casualties – that’s almost the entire population of a town the size of Warwick today.
It wasn’t a one day affair either, but ground on until November 18, 1916, by which time the British and French had managed to advance a mere six miles on a front 16 miles wide. In terms of casualties, more than one million combatants were killed or injured over the four and a half month duration of the battle, 419,654 of them British.
The battle was also the first major offensive where Lord Kitchener’s Army of Pals Battalions, volunteer soldiers drawn from villages, towns, factories and firms across the length and breadth of the country were deployed, and which saw whole communities devastated from the losses.
THE first casualty from Redditch to die in the Battle of the Somme was Sergeant Oliver Summers, DCM.
Born in Studley, he was a member of the 1/8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment and died on the first day of the battle. He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial in Picardie, France and on the County High School (now Trinity High) war memorial and on the war memorial in Studley.
Another early casualty was Walter Frederick Dobbins, about whom more is known.
He was born on Sunday, September 21, 1890 at 37 Prospect Hill to Albert and Emily Dobbins, the family later moving to 55 Albert Street and then Archer Road.
His father worked in a fishing tackle factory while his mum was employed in the needle industry.
Walter went on to qualify as a school teacher and taught at St Luke’s School, which still stands today at the top of Plymouth Road and is still educating today’s youngsters.
He joined up at Aston Manor in Birmingham on August 4, 1914, the day Britain declared war on Germany, and was sent for training to Essex he then joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and landed at Le Havre in France on March 22, 1915.
He died of his wounds on July 2, 1916, the second day of the Battle of the Somme, aged 25 and is buried at the Doullens Communal Cemetery in France.
A former pupil of the County High School, his name is on the war memorial at what is now Trinity High School and current pupils will lay a wreath in his memory at the service today in the Peace Garden.