The Heroes of the Somme uses original archive from the Western Front to uncover the stories of seven of the men whose remarkable bravery won them the Victoria Cross, Britain's most prized military medal.
World War One's Somme Offensive was fought in North Western France. It lasted 141 days and involved 13 allied nations fighting 14 separate battles. July 1st 1916, Day One of the battle, was the worst in British military history, when General Haig's Army suffered 60,000 casualties. By the end of the offensive the total for both sides was a million. This extraordinary sacrifice was made for just 6 miles of empty farmland.
Of the more than a million British and Dominion troops who fought on the Somme, just 51 were awarded the Victoria Cross. In this programme, military historian Dr Gavin Hughes travels to France to piece together the stories of seven of them. Their experiences, covering four key days of the battle, tell the story of the entire offensive.
Gavin uses a copy of a 100 year old battle map to navigate the Somme landscape today. It once belonged to a British General. Now Gavin is using the map to pin point the locations of individuals and the battalions they fought in. The VC winners themselves came from across Great Britain and its empire. The first to be awarded a medal for his actions on the Somme was from Ulster, and the programme features others from Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, England and New Zealand. These men came from every rank and social background.
The programme features contributions from leading modern historians, who explain the broader context of the battle, and describe how the offensive has come to be remembered, rightly or wrongly, as a exercise in futile military sacrifice.
Meanwhile interviews with modern day family members reveals the personal stories of each character, exploring the differing fortunes they experienced, and the variety of reasons for which they fought One man made war an adventure. For another adventure turned into sacrifice. One's bravery was remembered for a century. Another's forgotten within a decade. One soldier fought because it was his heritage. Other's because it was their duty. This programme reveals how they all risked everything, all won the Victoria Cross and were all heroes of the Somme.
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