Viewing entries tagged
Battle of the Somme

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Elegy: The First Day on the Somme

BY: Andrew Roberts

PUBLISHER: Head of Zeus

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In 1916, the German army still occupied Belgium and much of northeast France, and had dug themselves deep into four hundred miles of trenches stretching from the North Sea to Switzerland. The British and French armies knew that a huge effort was needed to break through the German lines. The place chosen for the great offensive was the rolling countryside of Picardy around the River Somme. The date: July 1st. The British troops rose from their front-line trenches at 7.30am on a beautiful summer’s day, after a week-long bombardment that was supposed to destroy the German barbed wire and trenches. Before the sun went down, 57,471 of them were casualties on the worst single day in the history of the British Army. Yet the story is not just a depressing one, as there were many inspiring stories of extraordinary courage too. (From Author's website)

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Major and Mrs Holt’s Definitive Battlefield Guide to the Somme. 100th Anniversary.

AUTHOR: TONIE AND VALMAI HOLT

PUBLISHER: PEN & SWORD MILITARY, 2016.  (7th GPS edition)

Major and Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide to the Somme is one of the bestselling guide books to the battlefields of the Somme. This latest up-dated edition includes four recommended, timed itineraries representing one day's travelling. Every stop on route has an accompanying description and often a tale of heroic or tragic action. Memorials, private and official, sites of memorable conflict, the resting places of personalities of note are all drawn together with sympathetic and understanding commentary that gives the reader sensitivity towards the events of 1916.

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Breakdown: the crisis of shell shock on the Somme, 1916

AUTHOR: TAYLOR DOWNING

PUBLISHER: LITTLE, BROWN, 2016

Paralysis. Stuttering. The 'shakes'. Inability to stand or walk. Temporary blindness or deafness. When strange symptoms like these began appearing in men at Casualty Clearing Stations in 1915, a debate began in army and medical circles as to what it was, what had caused it and what could be done to cure it. But the numbers were never large.

Then in July 1916 with the start of the Somme battle the incidence of shell shock rocketed. The high command of the British army began to panic. An increasingly large number of men seemed to have simply lost the will to fight. As entire battalions had to be withdrawn from the front, commanders and military doctors desperately tried to come up with explanations as to what was going wrong. 'Shell shock' - what we would now refer to as battle trauma - was sweeping the Western Front.

By the beginning of August 1916, nearly 200,000 British soldiers had been killed or wounded during the first month of fighting along the Somme. Another 300,000 would be lost before the battle was over. But the army always said it could not calculate the exact number of those suffering from shell shock. Re-assessing the official casualty figures, Taylor Downing for the first time comes up with an accurate estimate of the total numbers who were taken out of action by psychological wounds. It is a shocking figure.

Taylor Downing's revelatory new book follows units and individuals from signing up to the Pals Battalions of 1914, through to the horrors of their experiences on the Somme which led to the shell shock that, unrelated to weakness or cowardice, left the men unable to continue fighting. He shines a light on the official - and brutal - response to the epidemic, even against those officers and doctors who looked on it sympathetically. It was, they believed, a form of hysteria. It was contagious. And it had to be stopped.

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First Day of the Somme: the complete account of Britain’s worst-ever military disaster

AUTHOR: ANDREW MACDONALD

PUBLISHER: HARPERCOLLINS, 2016

It took several million bullets and roughly an hour to effectively destroy General Sir Douglas Haig's grand plans for the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. By day's end, 19,240 British soldiers were dead, crumpled khaki bundles scattered across pasture studded with the scarlet of poppies and smouldering shell holes. A further 35,493 were wounded. This single sunny day remains Britain's worst-ever military disaster. Responsible were hundreds of German machine guns and scores of artillery batteries that had waited silently to deal death to the long-anticipated attack.

Reviewing the day's events fully from, for the first time, both the British and German perspectives, Andrew Macdonald explains how and why this was a disaster waiting to happen. While laying the blame for the butchery squarely on widespread British command failure, he also shows that the outcome was a triumph of German discipline, planning and tactics, with German commanders mostly outclassing their opposite numbers.

Published for the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in July 2016, this is a major contribution to World War 1 history and an epic story of courage, misery and endurance in its own right.

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