On July 1 1916, the British Army launched one of the bloodiest, deadliest and most bitter offensives in European history.
The Somme campaign was intended to be the big push that would finally end the stalemate and turn the war in favour of the British. However, the gruelling battle lasted 141 days, only ending on November 18.
The year was also the year that technology took huge steps forward and tanks made their first appearance on the Western Front.
Ruth Duncan, curator at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen, said: “By 1916 the British Expeditionary Force was gaining more and more recruits. Soldiers were also becoming better trained.
“In terms of technology, tanks arrived as a weapon for the first time. They had their debut on the battlefields, so on the technology front things were quickly changing.
“The Somme was to be a big planned offensive which was going to be the turning point.
“At an Allied conference at the end of 1915 they agreed on the need for a joint offensive.
“From the way things were planned at the start, there was a sense of optimism that this would be the offensive that would turn the tide. However, Verdun was attacked in February and then throughout most of the rest of the year.
“This meant the offensive became less about that vital breakthrough and more about showing the French army that they could support them and were still there to help.
“It was less about the breakthrough and more about diverting enemy troops.
“It’s preceded by a really long artillery bombardment as well, so there’s a lot about 1916 that you could say things are ramped up a gear.”
There were more than one million casualties on all sides at the Somme.
420,000 British troops were lost, with 60,000 killed or wounded on the first day of fighting. The Gordon Highlanders suffered 1,472 deaths and 3,737 casualties in total.
Injuries hit the north-east regiment especially hard, as many battalions were not at full fighting strength.
Despite these enormous losses, the British military gained a strip of territory only six miles deep by 20 miles long.
Ruth said: “I think the Somme comes to people’s mind when they think of the First World War because it was such a bloody battle.
“It was a battle in which so many people died on that first day. It’s become infamous because of the sheer number of losses.
“However, it’s also because of the cost of life for the amount of ground gained that it’s something that is very well remembered by those who lost family there, or by those who just couldn’t not be affected by the way that the battle has been remembered through the years.”
The Battle of the Somme also saw the reputation of the 51st Highland Division, which the Gordon Highlanders fought under, transform. Previously perceived as ineffective amateurs, the division was transformed in people’s minds into highly skilled killers.
They were even dubbed the Ladies of Hell by the enemy due to their kilted uniforms.
Yet up to 45% of the division were killed in action, died of their wounds or declared missing in action following the Battle of the Ancre – the final major British attack in the blood-soaked Somme campaign.
The Somme also marked a turning point in soldiers’ outlook on the war.
A growing cynicism was festering and a realisation that the war would be won by whichever side managed to develop the most industrial firepower.
Ruth said: “It’s at this point that the feeling began to come out that this war was less a battle of man-power or a battle of wills but that the war will boil down to being a battle of industrial might.
“More industrial force was being thrown into the war as a way to try to crack the stalemate, so this changing perspective began to appear for the first time.”