It was at 7.30am on July 1, 1916, that the British and French troops advanced from their trenches, believing that the heavily-bombed German lines would offer little resistance as they walked across No Man's Land. Instead, the Germans had survived the earlier artillery bombardment without major losses, and when they emerged from their dugouts and took up their positions, their machine gunners were free to inflict horrendous damage on the advancing Allied troops.
Yes, there were some successes, and countless tales of heroism, but that first day of the Battle of the Somme has gone down as the bloodiest day in British military history, with almost 58,000 casualties, over 19,000 of them left dead. Instead of the quick breakthrough which was anticipated by the military leadership, the Somme became a deadlocked war of attrition. As we move towards Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, the horror of the Somme will again come into our consciousness, especially as the 141-day battle came to a close on November 18, 1916. By that stage, the British had gained just six miles - and the bitter conflict had claimed over a million casualties from both sides.
Like many Northern Ireland football fans who had followed their team to France during the summer for the Euro 2016 finals, in between matches I travelled to the Somme with my brother and a friend. We only had a couple of days but we managed to visit the Thiepval Memorial, the Ulster Tower, the Newfoundland Memorial and numerous other cemeteries dotted amidst the Somme countryside.
The sight of so many immaculate graveyards, with their rows of white headstones, glistening in the French sunshine, many bearing the simple inscription "An Irish Soldier of the Great War. Known Unto God", was a truly humbling experience.
As you all know, the NI football team was involved in some memorable moments in France and brought great joy to their supporters. But I suspect that many members of the famous Green and White Army would have similar thoughts as myself when I say that my own personal highlight was that visit to the battlefields of the Somme.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12&13