War records open to all to commemorate centenary of Battle of the Somme

Recruits with the Royal Sussex Southdown Battalion in 1915. Note how young some of them look

Recruits with the Royal Sussex Southdown Battalion in 1915. Note how young some of them look

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With the 100th anniversary of the Battle of The Somme approaching, a family history website has made its entire collection of military records free to access.

People will be able to access 65 million records relating to UK, Irish, Australian, Canadian and US servicemen and women until 11.59pm on July 4.

Royal Sussex Regiment 'Lowther's Lambs' Battalion Officers at Cooden 1915.

Royal Sussex Regiment 'Lowther's Lambs' Battalion Officers at Cooden 1915.

The site includes 32 million First World War records including 4.2 million British Army Service Records, over 5.8 million medal records, over 700,000 death records and over 27,000 Pals battalion records.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire between July 1 and November 18 1916 on both sides of upper reaches of the River Somme in France.

It was the largest battle fought on the Western Front with more than one million men wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The first day of the action alone resulted in more than 58,000 British casualties, one third of whom were killed in action.

This was followed by 140 days of horror in which hundreds of thousands of British troops fought and died in some of the worst conditions of the entire war.

The battle also marked ‘blooding of the Pals battalions’.

The Pals, who had volunteered together, fought together and in many cases died together, were mostly young, educated, white collar workers who had signed up in 1914 amid the first excitement of Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ campaign.

For many, the Somme was the first major action they saw and casualty rates were staggeringly high. The devastating effect this had on their home communities led to the experiment being abandoned after the summer of 1916.

The collection is available to view for free at www.findmypast.co.uk .

Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast, said: “Findmypast is proud to perpetuate the memory of those who served their King and country during one of the darkest chapters in the history of the British Armed Forces.

“By providing access to the most comprehensive collection of the First World War service records and other military records online, Findmypast enables people to easily discover those ancestors who sacrificed so much.”

William Spencer, Military Records Specialist at The National Archives, said: “Records relating to the Somme give us a very vivid picture of what it was like for those fighting there and the conditions they lived and fought in.

“Poignantly, they provide a record of the number of those killed, many of whom were young and who were experiencing a battle for the first time.”

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