THE full realisation of the terrible outcome of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on Saturday, July 1, 1916, when more than 19,000 men were killed, hit Craven a couple of weeks later in letters sent from the front to loved ones at home, many of which found space in the pages of the Craven Herald. We’ve selected a number of the letters home which we think give a poignant sense of what it was like in those dark days.

PRIVATE Harry Gill of Ryeland Street, Cross Hills, a Tommy with the 5th West Riding Regiment, was one of the lucky ones. He was not in the first wave and was not called on to go over the top, suffering a "blighty" bullet wound to his side when waiting, bayonet fixed, in a trench. He wrote from his military hospital bed in Cardiff.

Harry had enlisted in February 1915 and underwent four months of training before going to France at Whitsuntide of that year. He had a twin brother with the Bradford Pals. We do not know whether he survived the withering machine gun fire from the Germans.

Harry writes: "My wound is a slight one - a gun shot wound to my left side. On Thursday, June 29, we left the village and went into some of our own reserve trenches. Our guns were bombarding all night but the Germans only threw about three shells over us all night. In the morning we left these trenches and went forward to some dug outs. We stayed there Friday and Saturday and on Sunday night, July 2, we went up the line.

"You will know all about the big advance before you get this letter as I see the papers are full of it. However, it is somewhat different being in it than it is to read about it.

"Well to get on with the tale as we went up the line we were under shell fire. A few of our lads were wounded long before we got near the line. We were at the bottom of a long hill and the enemy were at the top. Our division was the second to go up, the first having already gone over the top. We got word that they had taken two or three lines of trenches and lost a lot of men also.

"By midnight we got somewhere near the trenches and came under a very serious bombardment. The noise and the din was awful I can tell you. Some of the old hands had not known it to be as bad before. We went on and took over some old German trenches which had been won by the brigade in front of us .

"We should have gone over the top at 3am on the Monday but we were stood in the trenches with fixed bayonets. They put up their fire on us and so many of us got wounded that we were not strong enough to go over. A good lot of our lads in A company were wounded.

"I don't know what time I was hit, sometime early on Monday morning and as soon as I got hit I thought my best plan was to get out and I was not long in doing so I can tell you. I was very lucky to get away."

Private Joseph Fort, a Bradford Pal of Raikes Head Farm, Silsden, was truly in the thick of it and was wounded by machine gun fire in his right hand as he advanced on July 1. Words, he says, cannot describe the horror of it.

He writes: "Our battalion suffered severely but we gained our objective. I was just over the first German line when I got hit. The trench, or what was left of it, was full of dead Allamandes and also a lot of live ones in dug outs which we quickly bombed out.

"They were dazed completely by our terrible bombardment and had scarcely any fight left in them, indeed I only saw one able to stand up with his bayonet. In the meantime their machine guns in the second and third lines were firing for all they were worth and hitting a good many of our chaps. I had got about ten yards towards the second line when I got hit and was forced to stop. I tied the wound up with a handkerchief and then the difficulty was how to get back.

"The Germans were sending curtain fire of high explosive shells just in front of our line to stop us from bringing the reserves up so I laid in a shell hole for about two hours until the firing slackened a bit and then I made a dash though expecting every minute to be hit by a piece of shrapnel."

The paper tells us of the deaths of several soldiers including Lieutenant William Gomersall of the Manchester regiment, formerly of Hellifield, who died in the opening charge on Saturday, July 1, along with 774 other officers and men who perished or were wounded. Only 140 Manchesters survived unscathed the opening attack.

Private William Burgess of the 1st 6th West Riding Regiment of George Street, Skipton, was killed by a piece of shrapnel. He had been at the front since April 1915 and died on Sunday July 2.

Nineteen-year-old Corporal EC Briggs was the son of Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant AC Briggs, of 22 Ermysted Street, Skipton. He had been a weaver at Embsay Mill and went to the front with the 6th West Riding Regiment the Territorials in April 1915 and died at the Somme.

Company Sergeant Major Fred Green, of Bolland Street, Barnoldswick, was aged 30 when he was killed on July 7 and Private Ernest Wooff, a 22 year-old from Settle, a member of Settle Territorial, was also killed. He had already been wounded earlier in the war and went to the Somme with a bullet still lodged in his shoulder.