Not only was the Battle of the Somme the single most catastrophic day in the history of the British Army, it left whole communities in mourning and is now seared into the national consciousness – a symbol of the carnage and horror of the First World War.
In all some 120,000 men went over the top on that fine summer’s day along a 16-mile front of marshy flatlands in northern France bisected by the River Somme.
A significant proportion of those were from Lord Kitchener’s Pals battalions who had responded so unflinchingly to his rallying cry two years earlier after war broke out. For many of them this would be their first, and last, battle.
Units such as the Leeds, Bradford and Barnsley Pals perished on the idealistic notion that they were made of the “right stuff”, every bit as good as the men and boys from the neighbouring town or district.
By nightfall on that first day the number of men killed stood at 19,240, almost enough to fill Headingley cricket ground – a high price to pay for gaining just three square miles of territory.
Some battalions such as the 10th West Yorkshires, which recruited men from in and around Harrogate and Leeds, were all but wiped out in a matter of hours. The West Yorkshires also had the grim distinction of losing more men during the first day on the Somme than any other battalion.
This coming Friday, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of this darkest of times, the Yorkshire Evening Post will publish a special edition commemorating our lost heroes.
We will never forget the debt of honour owed by this city, by this county, by this country.
An added perspective, indeed, in our own uncertain and troubled days.