Britons know "little or nothing" about the Battle of the Somme, says National Army Museum

By Richard Moss | 08 June 2016

Most British adults know very little about the Battle of the Somme, according to a new survey by the National Army Museum

a photo of a group of wounded soldiers walking down a road during the First World War
A German Prisoner of War assists British wounded at the Battle of the Somme© Courtesy National Army Museum
It might be one of the bloodiest and most tragic battles in human history and certainly one of the most infamous to emerge from the bloodbath of the First World War, but according to new research few people know much about the Battle of the Somme.

A survey from the National Army Museum ahead of the 100th anniversary of the battle, which began on July 1, has found that the majority of the British public (85%) know “little or nothing” of the 1916 Somme offensive, in which more than a million men were killed or wounded over a five-month period that came to epitomise the tragedy and wastefulness of attritional warfare.

The research, which took a "nationally representative" poll of more than 2,000 UK adults, found that 85% reported either knowing little (42%), or nothing (43%) about the Battle of the Somme.

Perhaps most surprisingly those aged 55-64 - the post-Second World War baby boomer generation -  were least likely to have good knowledge of the Somme, with 88% admitting to knowing little or nothing about it.

A further 43% of respondents didn’t know what war the Somme took place in, 46% didn’t know that it took place in 1916 and 46% didn’t know where it took place.

a photo of two graves marked by upside down rifles and a cap
Grave of an unknown British soldier near Ginchy© Courtesy National Army Museum
The findings come ahead of a new educational campaign from the National Army Museum designed to teach more about the battle and its place in history.

The Somme Centenary learning package includes a downloadable exhibition designed to help local communities explore the events of the epic battle through powerful and informative maps, letters, photographs and propaganda.

Downloadable learning resources, designed for classroom or home learning, combine the museum’s expert knowledge with its extensive archives. A Battle of Somme centenary video sees experts discuss the strategy employed in the battle and its human cost – 20,000 men were lost on the first day alone.

A Soldiers’ Stories section is designed to allow users to see the Battle of the Somme through the eyes of those who fought, via the National Army Museum’s collection of transcripts, diaries and photography.

A live lecture with Hugh Sebag-Montefiore on Rewriting the Somme will show guests personal accounts of those who fought at Somme and encourage them to think past the preconceived ideas of incompetent generals and senseless slaughter.

a photo of a shattered landscape of trees.
Delville Wood, shattered in firece struggles. The South Africans held on here after suffering fierce counter-attacks© Courtesy National Army Museum
Describing the battle as “arguably one of the most significant battles of the First World War”, Christian Langlois, the National Army Museum’s Head of Learning, said: “It’s important that the sacrifices that were made both in battle and at home aren’t forgotten.

“Our new downloadable exhibition and learning resources mean communities across the UK — through schools, libraries, and regional history centres — can learn and remember a poignant and heart-breaking part of British history in an engaging way.”

The site also helps overturn the common myths that the trench warfare seen at Somme was reflective of the whole war by exploring the development of tactics and the technological changes on the Western Front. It also explores the fighting that took place in Sub Saharan Africa, Russia, China, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East.

Visit the The Battle of the Somme: 100 Years On website

an aerial photograph showing fields around a village and the arteries of roads running through it
Aerial photograph of Guillemont, a village on the Somme front taken May 16© Courtesy National Army Museum
a black and white photo of soldiers clustered around ambulances
British wounded at a forward dressing station on the Somme© Courtesy National Army Museum
a photo of a soldiers playing cards whilst kneeling in a trench
French soldiers with sheepskin body warmers play cards in a front line trench© Courtesy National Army Museum
a photo of a group of British soldiers clustered around a British tank for a group photo
One of only 15 landships - nicknamed tanks - that made it across the battlefield during the Battle of the Somme© Courtesy National Army Museum
A photo of a tank crossing a trench
A British tank crossing a trench© Courtesy National Army Museum
a photo of a recruiting poster with the Lord Kitchener's appeal
One of the first recruiting posters © Courtesy National Army Museum
a black and white photo of men in civilian clothes carrying rifles through a town as children run alongside
WWI volunteers march through the village of Ashtead© Courtesy National Army Museum
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