Wakefield Museum marks Battle of the Somme

​Date: 04/07/2016

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A watch worn on the first day of the Battle of the Somme is being displayed in Wakefield Museum as part of the First World War's 100th anniversary commemorations.

The display follows the journey of the 12th Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, where the owner of the watch, Captain R.E England, led D Company into No Man's Land.

By the end of the first day of the battle  over 19,000 British and Allied soldiers had died in a hail of German gunfire.

Cllr Les Shaw, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport at Wakefield Council said: "This is a very moving display which tells the story of the miners who formed the 12th Battalion, their role in the battle and what happened before and afterwards.

 "I would strongly recommend coming to see it, to learn about these brave men, many of whom were from our district and made the ultimate sacrifice."

Captain England's watch is set to the fateful time of 7.48am when he led D Company's 'Big Push' into No Man's Land and a hail of German machine gun fire.

The Somme offensive was meant to be a major wartime breakthrough. It followed a week long bombardment that was supposed to have destroyed the German defences. But the enemy lines had survived. When Allied soldiers went into No Man's Land, they walked into a deadly barrage of artillery and gunfire.

At the sound of officers' whistles, British and Allied soldiers went over the top of their trenches.

D Company got to wait 18 minutes after the first whistles sounded for their turn to go over the top. They would have been fully aware of the gunfire and the killing of their colleagues.

The 12th Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were meant to destroy the captured trenches. Instead, as the attack failed under enemy fire, they carried supplies and rescued the wounded.  When the battalion reassembled at 4.30pm, 197 men were reported missing, wounded or killed.

Fifty years later, Captain England returned to the Somme on pilgrimage wearing the very same watch.

The display can be seen in the atrium at Wakefield One, Burton Street until October 1.