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Remembering the Battle of the Somme

The centenary of the Battle of the Somme

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to reflect upon the sacrifice made by many at the Battle of the Somme.

Preparation and materials


  1. Show Slide 1.

    July 2016 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
    The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of the First World War. Fought between 1 July and 18 November 1916, near the River Somme in France, it was also one of the bloodiest military battles in history. On the first day alone, the British suffered 60,000 casualties, of whom 20,000 were killed. The battle continued for four months and, during that period, there were more than one million casualties overall. Trenches, machine guns and barbed wire were key military tactics used in this battle.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    This slide shows the location of the battle.

  3. Show Slide 3.

    Many of the British soldiers who went to the Somme had volunteered for the pals battalions. These battalions consisted of groups of men who had enlisted together, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends and peers (their pals’). Across Britain, communities suffered catastrophic losses: whole units died together and for weeks after the initial assault at the Somme, local newspapers were filled with lists of the dead, wounded and missing.

  4. It is hard to comprehend the horror and loss that resulted from the Battle of the Somme. The numbers of the injured and dead are hard to process.
    Images and photos from this time can help us to empathize with those affected. Here are some images taken directly from the Battle of the Somme. As we look at each image, consider how each person shown is an individual - with family, friends, hopes and dreams.

    Show slides 4-7.

  5. During the early days of the Battle of the Somme, two official cinematographers (Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell) were allowed to film in the trenches and on the battlefield. This footage was made into a film, which was released in August 1916. As we watch a short clip from this film (available at:, again consider how each person shown is an individual.

    Play the video from 0.27 
    to 2.00 minutes.

  6. Each of the men whom we can see in this film was an individual, just one of the millions of people involved and affected by the battle. Today, we are going to focus on one particular individual, Lieutenant Robert Smylie.

  7. Robert Smylie was headmaster of Sudbury Grammar School, and taught English and Maths. He was 40 years old when he joined the army at the outbreak of war. He was married and had a son and two daughters. He did not make it home again to see them - he was killed in action in the Battle of the Somme on 14 July 1916, by a single shot to the chest.

    Found inside Robert’s jacket pocket was a book containing a photograph of his wife and children. The book had a hole made in it from the bullet that killed him.

    Show Slide 8.

  8. Another of Smylie’s possessions that helps us to connect to him, his sacrifice and his family’s loss is a poem, penned by Smylie in the months before his death. As he served as a soldier, he reflected upon the family he had left behind. The poem he wrote, called ‘My three kids, describes life as a serving soldier as well as his longing to be back with them. The final lines of the poem speak of loss and hope.

    Read, or ask a student to read, the following extract from ‘My three kids’.

    Lots of men I used to know 
    Now are killed or wounded, though 
    I remain, and back I'll go, To my kids 
    And I hope you'll all keep well, My three kids 
    Just as sound as any bell, My three kids 
    And when this long war is done 
    We shall have some glorious fun 
    Moll and Bids and little son, My three kids.

Time for reflection

One hundred years on, what can we learn from the terrible experience of the Battle of the Somme? Four things in particular stand out - friendship, family, service and peace all matter very much.

Friendship matters. Many of the men who served at the Somme signed up to do so with friends. Friendship and companionship helped and sustained the men as they lived through the horror of the trenches.
we remember in our own lives the people we call friends. We think of the small sacrifices and acts of love that they show towards us.
What can we do today to foster and develop good friendships?

Pause for thought.

Family matters. When Robert Smylie served as a soldier, the photo of his family was never far from him. Thinking of them brought him hope and he longed to return home to them.
Today, we think of our own family members - the people who sustain us and bring us comfort. We are grateful for the chance of fellowship with those we love.
What can we do today to best show our love, appreciation and support for people we love as part of our family?

Pause for thought.

Service mattersRobert Smylie did not ask for war to break out. Nor did the many millions of men who died. Yet they all chose to serve.
Today, there are situations in our own lives that we may not have chosen if we had been given a choice. We can choose to serve and help others despite this. We can accept the things we cannot change, while finding the courage to try to change the things we can. Let's pause to think of the situations and opportunities where we can serve, help and give.

Pause for thought.

Peace mattersWar causes much suffering. The loss experienced as a result of the Battle of the Somme was immense and hard to comprehend. Robert Smylie longed for the time when peace was restored and he could return home. He did not live to see that day.
Today, in every interaction we have, and in every situation we find ourselves, we have the chance to work towards or against peace. Let’s take time to reflect upon how we can bring peace to our relationships, our situations and our world.

Pause for thought.

Dear God,
We acknowledge that you call us to live in peace.
We also acknowledge that we sometimes get this wrong.
We pray for peace in our world today - and in our own lives and hearts.
Help us to be peacemakers, looking to value and support friends, family and others.
May we never forget the sacrifice made by so many in the pursuit of peace and justice.

May we never take peace and liberty for granted.

Follow-up ideas

Note: A useful resource pack of materials to remember the Somme is available from the Royal British Legion. This may be useful for a follow-up display or lesson based on the Battle of the Somme, and is available at:

Publication date: July 2016   (Vol.18 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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