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  1. ITV Report

Battle of the Somme: Harrowing first-hand accounts go online

Shrapnel bursts over a trench above Canadian lines during the Battle of the Somme in France, 1916. Credit: Reuters

Harrowing first-hand accounts of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, written by the men who fought in it, are to made public for the first time.

The Imperial War Museum received a large collection of experiences from the Felix Fund charity, who were given transcripts originally sent to Martin Middlebrook.

Mr Middlebrook appealed in over 90 regional and national newspapers for first-hand accounts of the battle for his book The First Day On The Somme, first published in 1971.

He received 526 British and 20 German recollections of the conflict - but only used 10 for his book.

Undated handout photo of the first-hand account of the Battle of the Somme. Credit: PA

The accounts give a breathtaking insight into the death, chaos and devastation of the Tommies who went 'over the top' on July 1 1916 - the bloodiest day in British military history.

Almost 60,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or wounded on the first day of the battle.

Over a million casualties were recorded on both sides by the end of the 141-day offensive - 100 years ago on November 18.

Anthony Richards, head of documents and sound at the IWM, said the accounts were from "a real cross-section - officers and men.

The accounts give a rare glimpse into the bloodiest day in British military history. Credit: PA

"It covers people from all sorts of backgrounds, under-age soldiers...one who even changed his name in order to get in."

Among the collection was the story of Private John Kirkham, a 20-year-old in the 20th Battalion Manchester Regiment in 1916, who attacked a German soldier with a "knobkerrie" - a steel-handed club used in hand-to-hand fighting.

He wrote: "I hit out with my knobkerrie and it sank deep into his forehead, in the scuffle, his helmet flew off, and I saw that he was a bald-headed old man. I have never forgotten that bald head, and I don't suppose I ever will (poor old devil)."