Throughout the Somme the remains of soldiers from all over the Commonwealth have been found: soldiers of English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, New Zealand, Australian, Canadian, Newfoundland and South African nationality.

The Battle of the Somme started on July 1st, 1916 with a succession of explosions: mines had been buried under the front lines of the enemy trenches. It lasted until November 18th. In all it is estimated that 420,000 soldiers died, were wounded, were reported missing or were captured. One third of these died, or nearly 140,000 soldiers. In more than half of these cases, no body was found or it was impossible to identify the remains: these are the missing soldiers of the Somme.

The Memorial of Thiepval, which was built according to the designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), pays tribute to the men from the British and South-Africans regiments. He was one of the architects of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a British institution that was founded in 1917 to register and maintain the graves of the fallen soldiers of the Great War. At the same time the Commission was also charged with building memorials in their honour. The memorial at Thiepval consists of a series of brick arches and white stone. Nearly 72,200 names of missing soldiers have been engraved in the walls of this memorial. The construction started in 1929. The memorial itself was inaugurated on August 1st, 1932, in the presence of the future British King Edward VIII and the French president, Albert Lebrun.

The two cemeteries group the tombs of British and French soldiers, on either side of an avenue. White crosses mark the French tombs. 253 of those bear the inscription « inconnu » or unknown. 239 of the 300 British white tombstones bear an epitaph by the author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) "A Soldier of the Great War known unto God".

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  • Bazentin (Somme): cemetery, first quarter of the 20th century, postcard, coll. Linge © P&K Linge

    Several temporary cemeteries were organised during the Battle of the Somme. As is the case here, the individual tombs of the soldiers were often marked with a wooden cross. At the time they recorded the location of these tombs in hopes of coming back after the war to find them and group them in permanent cemeteries.

  • Inauguration of Thiepval Memorial, 1st August 1932, photo, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne © Y. Medmoun

Bazentin Cemeteryinauguration of Thiepval Memorial