My great uncle, Francis John Maskell was born in 1898, growing up, going to school and working as a farm labourer in the small village of West Ilsley in Berkshire, England.
In June 1916, he left the village for the first time in his life, travelling to the nearby town of Wantage to enlist in the army, joining the Royal Berkshire Regiment. After basic training, he served in France with both the 2nd & 6th Battalions.
At the end of January 1917, the 6th Battalion had 2 men killed and 13 wounded when an enemy shell landed on their dug-out entrance while they were exchanging positions with the 1st Bedfords near Martinsart on the Somme. Uncle Frank was one of the 13 wounded and he died of his wounds on 6th February 1917, aged just 19.
In March 2008 I visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission 'Blighty Valley Cemetery' at Authuile Wood with my father and brother. The cemetery is typical of the very many small cemeteries on the Somme and now contains 1,027 burials and commemorations, with 536 of the burials being unidentified.
After the war it was calculated that during the Battle of the Somme 419,654 British and 204,253 French were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner; and of the 623,907 total casualties, 146,431 were either killed or missing. What a tragic waste; they were all heroes!