The early mist had almost gone and the sun was high enough to give warmth when the appointed moment came and, against a sky ‘of a kind commonly described as heavenly’, 60,000 men, in good faith and bad boots, climbed out of their trenches and advanced on the German lines. It was 7.30am British Summer Time, 1st July 1916. Zero Hour. By nightfall, out of a total of 116,000 British and Empire soldiers committed to the battle that day, 57,470 had become casualties. 19,240 were dead. It was, and remains, the costliest day in British military history.
The 14 panoramas in the exhibition were taken by Jolyon Fenwick at the exact position (and time) from which 14 battalions attacked in the first wave that day a hundred years ago, a day that marked at once the start of the greatest battle since the beginnings of civilisation and the end (at least of a kind) of British history. A day indeed that would change what it was like to be British at all. In the manner of battlefield panoramas of the time, they are annotated by hand with the points of tactical significance (invariably christened by the soldiers themselves) as they existed immediately before the battle.