Saturday, July 1

The Somme - 9O years ago today


Eighteen months after the start of the First World War in France the Germans launched a major offensive. The strategy of General Falkenhayn in February 1916 was to deliver the heaviest blow he could against the France, calculating that after the hideous losses of 1914/15 the French might crack. The objective was Verdun.

More than a thousand guns and mortars fired two million rounds at the French front line to open the battle.The German infantry attack which started on 21 February met heavy and courageous resistance from the French troops and the German advance was slow - less than half a mile a day. By the second week in March the German advance came to a virtual halt.

As the battle of Verdun proceeded the French urged the British to advance the date of the Allied offensive to relieve the pressure on their forces.

The Somme offensive commenced with a bombardment on 24 June and lasted a week. Actually only five days intensive shelling was planned but was extended by two days because of bad weather.
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At 7.30 am the whistles blew and tens of thousands of men clambered up assault ladders from their trenches and into no man's land. The artillery bombardment had failed to crush the enemy defences. In many areas the barbed wire was uncut; nor were the German machine-guns destroyed or even suppressed.

Across a twenty mile front British Empire (and French) troops were killed in droves by the steady stutter of the 'Boch's' Maxim guns and the German artillery counter-barrage.

On 1 July 1916 the British Army sustained 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 were killed.

The Battle of the Somme continued until 19 November.
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Private Charles Taylor a soldier 13 th Battalion, Yorks and Lancs.; recalling 1 July 1916:
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''I statred crawling towards our lines - I had never seen so many dead men climped together. That was all I could see and I thought to myself, 'All the world's dead - they are all dead - they're all dead. That's all I could think as I crawled along. Everywhere I passed, to my left and right were dead men laying on the ground.''
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Lieutenant Stefan Westmann a German Medical Officer:
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Then the British Army went over the top. The very momment we felt their artillery fire was directed against reserve positions, our machine-gunners crawed out of the bunkers, red eyed and dirty, covered in the blood of their fallen comrades, and opened up a terrific fire.
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Above quotes curtesy The Imperial War Museum Sound Archive
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Left the Serre sector at the Somme, France.
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Dr Richard North writes:
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Now is not the time or place to rehearse the many controversies about the conduct of the First World War and, in particular, the carnage of the battle of the Somme which kicked off on 1 July 1916, exactly ninety years ago.
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What is impossible to forget, though is the sheer scale of death and suffering on that first day, when nearly 20,000 died, many of their wounds while awaiting evacuation. Today, as we have forces committed all over the world, and in particular Iraq and Afghanistan, such carnage amongst our own is unimaginable.Having visited most of the battlefields on the Somme, often with Nigel Farage MEP who proved a knowledgeable and sensitive guide, even with the passage of time, it is very, very hard to keep a dry eye as you visit the immaculately kept war cemeteries which still, to this day, commemorate our dead.
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But what really brought home the horror of the battle was a visit to the Serre sector where the Accrington Pals "jumped off" on their journey to death.
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The trenches from which the attack started have been preserved (pictured) and, standing in them, you can look up the hill to the ridge, not three hundred yards distant, where the Germans waited with their machine guns. And, almost exactly half-way is a line of three cemeteries, marking the spot where the troops fell.
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It was some long time before I could even speak after that, mute with the thought that, but for an accident of history and birth, it could so easily have been us, this generation, fed into the maw of the guns with no chance of survival.
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My grandfather was in the trenches – he would never talk about it – but was invalided out after being gassed, and my father was evacuated with the BEF at Dunkirk. I am the first of three generations that was not forced to go to war, one of a generation that must count itself fortunate for the sacrifice of our fathers and grandfathers.
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This, I am conscious of most days through the year, especially so as, ninety years later, we are committing troops to active combat. Remembrance is not just for 11 November each year, but for every day that we ask young men (and women) to die in our name.

2 comments:

Sarah Hoperty said...

Very moving. Lest we forget -indeed

Kelly said...

Never should the sacrifice of our fallen ever be forgotten. These are always men and women who prove their courage and dedication by placing their very lives on the line each and every day.

THANKS !