Sound: sunken roads and the Battle of the Somme

Jim Warner, a veteran of the Battle of the Somme, describes his experience.


You see, the road was so deep it was perpendicular; cattle on the Somme never even tried to get down in there. Consequently, the Germans they took full, er, full advantage of the sunken road, which made it very difficult where we were concerned, especially with regards to his barbed wire. You could blow all the barbed wire to pieces out on top, you know, but he was still more or less in a good position down below. And the moment that our barrage lifted from the barbed wire, moved further back, that’s when he came out of the dugouts and manned the parapet with the machine-guns, and there it was. Shocking, wasn’t it?

What size area would the battle have covered?

There’d be, oh, easily ... I think now in length of course, we’re talking about the way the trenches zig-zag all over the place; they go up and down and all over the place, you know, and there’s nothing symmetrical about it, the way they were dug, because they were dug from shell hole to shell hole. Now, yes, from the bottom end of the Somme right up to Thiepval - yes, up at Thiepval that's where Freyberg won his Victoria Cross well, it'd be a distance of 15 to 20 miles in length. Yeah, it's about that, 15 to 20 miles kilometres perhaps, put it that way.

How close were the British front line and the enemy front line?

Good question, Andrew. I would say it varied mainly about a distance of 150 to 200 yards. Now, in some cases further apart, in some cases closer.

Soliders marching pows along sunken road

A group of German soldiers taken prisoner on the Somme are escorted by New Zealand troops. Note the sunken road; Jim Warner describes the strategic importance of this in the audio clip above

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