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Grays and Tilbury Gazette: July 1916-No bad news from the Battle of the Somme

THE following is a report in the Grays and Tilbury Gazette dated Saturday, July 1st, 1916. The article is penned by the Editor on the day the “Battle of the Somme” commenced and the British Army suffered 20,000 casualties in the space of a few hours.

“The past week was notable for a great number of reports which have given rise to a feeling of expectation-an expectation that we were on the eve of great movements which would bring us within view of the end. (of the war). So far we cannot tell how well founded they are. The Russian progress is for the time stayed, but it is evident that the contest is proving as much as the Austro-German arms can sustain. Evidence of this lack of resources is obtained by the operations in Italy, which have resulted in the Austrian offensive being turned into a retreat and much territory recovered. The Germans are a little nearer Verdun, but they are obviously nervous about the British front, from which they report continuous artillery fire. The official communications from General Haig are confined mainly to patrol raids, which we carry out with persistent success, and are evidently intended to make the enemy “jumpy”.

The following week, Saturday, July 8th, 1916, the Editor wrote:-

“Although the approaching British offensive had been privately discussed for weeks and had been plainly hinted at in soldiers’ letters home, when the official announcement did come on Saturday morning (1st July, 1916}, it had something of the shock of surprise about it.

The date of the offensive had so often been fixed that we were a little sceptical of prophecies. Now the great testing time has come, and we must bear its gains and losses with equanimity, knowing that it will be a hard and prolonged struggle. The advance which started on Saturday (1st July, 1916) has, so far, met with considerable success, and, apparently, in a district in which the Germans were not so well prepared as in others. The French on one side of the Somme and the British on the other made a concerted effort, which resulted in the capture of several fortified villages and a threat against Peronna which, if taken, will outflank the Germans on a wide salient and may cause a precipitate retirement. The fighting has been hard and obstinate, but it is good to hear that the valour of our troops still maintains the high traditions of our army.”

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It is noted that the Editor makes no mention of the shockingly high number of casualties suffered by the British army on 1st July, 1916 nor does he say if any of those who died or were severely injured were residents of Thurrock. Either he did not know, which is highly unlikely given that there were war correspondents reporting at the time, or the press was being censored by the Government.

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