As Australian forces joined the main theatre of war on the Western Front in 1916, the British and French armies had for some months been planning a joint offensive in the Somme region of France.
Originally intended as a French operation with British assistance, the plan changed when the Germans attacked the French at Verdun in 1916. With France’s forces engaged there, the British were called on to begin the Somme campaign as quickly as possible, and with minimal assistance from their allies.
The offensive commenced on 1 July 1916, and in a single day almost 58,000 British casualties were recorded, of whom some 19,000 were killed. This remains the most costly day in the history of the British army. The Somme offensive would last almost five months, and consisted of a string of small-scale battles, many of which became infamous.