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Repairing bridges on the Somme after the advance | by National Library of Scotland
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Repairing bridges on the Somme after the advance

With a steam engine and lorry in attendance, this image shows a group of soldiers repairing a bridge over the River Somme. It is likely that these soldiers would be Royal Engineers, more commonly known as 'sappers. There certainly appears to be a large amount of debris scattered in the river, and plenty of other building work taking place. However, given that the Somme was not considered a great success for the British Army, perhaps one should be slightly sceptical towards the claims made by the original caption on this photograph.


A joint British and French offensive, the Battle of the Somme was an attempt to make a decisive breakthrough in the German lines, though another aim was to destroy German manpower.


Under the leadership of Sir Douglas Haig, the attack soon became a British venture since the French troops were required to relieve the fortress at Verdun. After an artillery bombardment that lasted for eight days, the British infantry went 'over the top to attack the German trenches on the 1st of July 1916. Tragically, however, the artillery had not caused the damage that the generals had hoped for, and the British suffered 58,000 casualties (one third of whom were killed) on the first morning of the offensive. When Haig called off the attack in the winter of 1916, the British had made only a few insignificant territorial gains, at a cost of 420,00 casualties.


[Original reads: 'OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE. Repairing bridges on the Somme after the advance.']

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Taken circa 1918