I should like to make clear that this is a sketch copied from ~JesusFood, a far better artist than I. His sketches are beautiful, extremely well drawn - they inspired me to draw again after many years having not. Go see how his are -- and where I'd like mine to be -- and note how far I have to go... ~S!
British Soldier with Lewis Gun, 1916
So, another Tommy, this time in 1916. He is therefore likely a member of one of the service battalions, one of Kitchener's Army. By 1916, after a year and a half of training and preparation, they were ready to be blooded in their first major action, the Battle of the Somme.
Despite months of meticulous planning on the part of Douglas Haig and his staff - much maligned, quite unfairly, after his death - the first day would go down as the bloodiest day of the British Army with 57,470 casualties in total. Tactics had a long way to go before they would reach their zenith during the Hundred Days campaign of 1918, but an intensive week long bombardment crucially failed to cut the German wire. A pause between the bombardment and H-Hour allowed Germans to re-man their positions. A lack at this point of heavy artillery meant that many of the german dugouts had withstood the bombardment reasonably safely. As a result, the promised walkover never happened and in many places the troops failed to reach their objectives and were torn to pieces. Facing withering machine gun and rifle fire, they were also subjected to the German artillery, which had not been heavily targeted in the week-long preliminary bombardment and not enough British guns were allocated to counter-battery fire on the day. By mid-afternoon, the Germans were launching desperate counter attacks and those units who had achieved success found themselves often disorganised and assaulted on 3 sides. Many were hard pressed and would soon find themselves obliged to withdraw.
"Trench practically untenable, full of dead and wounded... Sap absolutely impassable owing to shell fire. Every party that enters it knocked out at once... impossible to man parts of our Front Line and digging quite out of the question... I have as far as I can find, 13 left besides myself. Trenches unrecognisable. Quite impossible to hold. Bombardment fearful for 2 hours. I am the only officer left." - Major Cedric Dickens, 13th (Kensington) Bn, London Regiment, 168th Bde, 56th Div, over the course of the early afternoon.
HOWEVER, for all the malignment of the tactics, in many places they worked. The souther sector was successfully taken, and the middle sectors mostly taken. As evening fell, the 18th (Eastern) and 30th divisions had managed to achieve all their day 1 objectives. Next to them, the 36th (Ulster) Division had achieved the majority of their objectives and were also holding them. Despite this, a breakthrough was not possible - the Germans had an entire second trench system behind the first which remained unbreached.
"We didn't know the first of July was a disaster. The only success was where our Division and the 18th Division gained all their objectives. We thought the war would soon be over as our men were flush with success." - Pte P. Kennedy, 18th Bn, Manchester Regiment, 90th Bde, 30th Div.
Nonetheless, the first day of the Somme was a disaster for the most part, and one which even now forms a part of the British mindset. By the close of the battle in November, over 420,000 British troops would be casualties, for paltry advances rendered all the worse by a German withdrawal of 30 miles to the Hindenberg line in 1917, done successfully with complete secrecy.
Nevertheless, the battle would provide important operational experience which allowed Kitchener's Army to transform into one of the most effective and advanced armies in the world by the Hundred Days' campaign and the end of the war.
This tommy wears standard uniform - 1907 pattern tunic and weabing, with an 08 pattern bayonet. As a gunner, he should have cylindrical ammo pouches rather than the little sets of 5 for rifle clips. The small haversac on his left would generally not be carried later in the war. He wears a MkI Steel Helmet, recently introduced and generally called by the troops the Tin Hat or Battle Bowler, or simply lid.
Another cheap paper / HB concoction.