History

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, 13 divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance.

Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July.

Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

Following lengthy negotiations about the site, construction at Thiepval began in 1928 and was finished in 1932. Foundations were dug to a depth of 30 feet, uncovering wartime tunnels and unexploded ordnance.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.

The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

Notable commemorations include cricketer Kenneth Hutchings, writer Hector Hugh Munro, also known as Saki and Cedric Dickens, grandson of novelist Charles Dickens. There are also seven holders of the Victoria Cross.

On 1 August 1932, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales unveiled the memorial. Albert Lebrun, President of France and Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial’s architect, attended the ceremony which was in English and French.

 Unveiling Thiepval

Each year on 1 July a ceremony is held at the memorial to mark the first day of the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, thousands of people attended a special ceremony including members of the British Royal family, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President François Hollande.

Behind the memorial is the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The cemetery contains the graves of 300 Commonwealth servicemen and 300 French servicemen. The majority of these men died during the Battle of the Somme, but some also fell in the battles near Loos and Le Quesnel.