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News from the front

At around 7.30am on 1 July 1916, whistles blew to signal the start of the Battle of the Somme. With the shelling over, the 11 British divisions walked towards the German lines and the machine guns started. By the end of the day, the British had suffered 60,000 casualties, with 20,000 dead. The reality was very different to the propaganda reports of ‘how British Troops went into battle with a smile and a cheer’, published in the Daily Sketch 11 days later.

Image from Daily Mirror, 3 August 1914   Image from Daily Sketch, 23 November 1916
Daily Mirror, 3 August 1914   Daily Sketch, 23 November 1916

Tanks were first used on 15 September 1916 at the Somme. Thirty-two tanks led the way in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, though only one-third took any real part in seizing German positions. The Daily Sketch proudly publishes the ‘First Official Pictures of the Tanks’ two months later, owing to censorship restrictions. In a report loaded with propaganda, the Sketch talks of the ‘amazing monsters’, which strike ‘terror into the hearts of the Huns’. In reality, the early tanks proved unreliable, often breaking down or getting stuck in the mud.

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