"The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all pleasant things, advanced across the No Man's Land to begin the Battle of the Somme." (John Masefield, 19171)
No sooner had the first wave of the Accrington Pals and Sheffield City Battalion clambered out of the front line trenches at 7.20am than machine gun and rifle fire began to open up from the German lines. A curtain of smoke released to the left of Nairne Trench did little to screen the left flank of the attack against fire coming from the north.5 Shortly afterwards, the hidden German artillery batteries opened fire, hurling an explosive torrent of shells onto the British trenches.6
In the meantime, the first wave of the leading battalions had dropped to the ground 100yds into No Man's Land to wait for their own bombardment to lift from the German front line. At around 7.25am, the second wave followed, with the clearing-up parties from the two Barnsley battalions close behind.
In the remaining minutes before zero, casualties began to mount rapidly. On the left flank, where "A" Company of the 2nd Barnsley Pals was struggling to get into No Man's Land through the shell-shattered wreckage of Nairne Trench, the casualty rate before 7.30am is thought to have reached 30%.7
The third and fourth waves of the Accrington Pals and Sheffield City Battalion moved forward from Campion and Monk Trenches at 7.29am. Both waves would come under intense fire as they advanced slowly down the exposed face of the valley towards No Man's Land.
At 7.30am the British bombardment rolled back towards the German 4th line. In No Man's Land, the men in the leading waves scrambled to their feet, took a moment to align themselves, and advanced towards the enemy.
© Andrew C Jackson 1999, 2006