Staffordshire commemorates Battle of the Somme

Friday was the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, a huge British offensive launched with the aim of breaking the deadlock of the trenches and setting in motion the end of World War I. But today, the battle is now most known for causing a horrifying 60,000 casualties on the first day.

Now, we have remembered the thousands of men, including many from our own Staffordshire regiments who lost their lives on that horrendous day as we commemorate the Battle.

Firstly, our Archives team have made available for the first time a rare war diary detailing the first day of the battle. Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Meynell, originally from Burton detailed events as they unfolded. Minute-by-minute the eye witness account builds a tragic picture of this horrendous day.

We’re incredibly lucky to have the diary which was an exciting discovery for our staff and gives us a frightening insight into how things unfolded. You can read more about the diary at www.staffordshiregreatwar.com.

Our commemorations also include special screenings of ‘The Somme’ film. This was seen by 20 million people in Britain when it came out in 1916, making it one of the most popular films in British history. We are now giving people the opportunity to see the film at both the Museum of Cannock Chase on Saturday 9 July and at Shire Hall Gallery in Stafford on 16 September. If you’re interested in this, there’s still places available and you’ll need to book at each venue.

Finally, most people will have heard of J.R.R Tolkien, author of epic novels like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. However, lessor known is his connections to Staffordshire and even more so to the Somme.

Second Lieutenant Tolkien trained for the Great War on Cannock Chase before he was sent to France to fight in the Battle of the Somme. During his time in the trenches, where he served as a signals officer, Tolkien contracted trench fever after three months and was shipped back to Great Haywood to recover. It was here, while convalescing that he began his writing career and drew from his experiences of the battlefields, machine guns, tanks and flame throwers used in the Somme to write his war-torn fantasy stories. These influences you can now see in his novels.

To bring his story to life, our library service has just launched a brand new exhibition exploring his time in Staffordshire while revealing how the war influenced his writing. ‘Tolkien in Staffordshire’ is now touring the county and features copies of original Tolkien artwork and some wonderful photographs. It’s well worth a visit.  From 5 to 10 July it will be at Great Haywood Memorial Hall. For dates and venues visit www.staffordshiregreatwar.com.

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