The Somme

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Galbally
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The Somme

Post by Galbally »

There was an excellent program on Channel 4 (U.K.) last night about the Battle of the Somme in WWI in july 1916. I have read quite a few books on WWI and the somme, but this was one of the most poingnant shows I've ever seen done on the event as it used the personal diaries of men from all sides (British, German, and French) to illustrate what they experienced as soldiers and men, and how they dealt with it. The Somme was one of the Bloodiest battles in history with causualities of over 1 million by the time it was over (thats for one battle in a war that had many) with the British alone having more causualties in the first 24 hours than the U.S. lost during the entire Vietnam conflict, aprox 60,000 killed, severly wounded or missing. Despite the appalling carnage and pointless sacrafice and death the event entailed there are interesting military points raised by the battle itself. The French actually managed to achieve their objectives on the first day (though they also became involved in the general stalemate) and it seems that this was because of a more flexible strategy in terms of use of artillery, the British leadership seemed totally inadequate to the matter in hand, and their fundamental mistakes were so gross that it is hard to credit that they really undrestood what they were about. I find the war fascinating as it seems to me to be the pivotal event in modern history as it directly gave rise to most of the major geopolitical events of the 20th century, the collapse of European supremacy in the world, the rise of totalitarianism, the Russian revolution, the Second World War, and the rise of the U.S. and U.S.S.R as global superpowers. It was the ultimate war of macho miltarism (on behalf of the European powers) and a singularly catastropic event for all the Western countries that engaged in it, (with the sole exception of the U.S.), as it marked the beginning of the end of Imperial Germany, Imperial Russia, Imperial France, the Austro Hungarian Empire, the Ottomans, and ultimately the British Empire itself. I am always reminded of the remarks credited to Edward Grey, the British Foreign secrary who on the eve of the war in 1914 is claimed to have said "The lights are going out across Europe, I doubt if we shall see them relit in our lifetimes" how right he was.
"We are never so happy, never so unhappy, as we imagine"



Le Rochefoucauld.



"A smack in the face settles all arguments, then you can move on kid."



My dad 1986.
Bothwell
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The Somme

Post by Bothwell »

I watched it as well. I am fascinated with WW1 almost to the point of obsession and as such am wary of "Drama" documentaries but i thought they made a decent fist of it. Certainly the british strategy of refusing to use Creeping barrages affected there advance as did their leaders total inflexibility to react to events on the day.

Timing the attack for full daylight at 7.30 am was also not the smartest move. The strategy that i think was one of the worst errors was the idea that artillery could destroy the barbed wire???. Barbed wire is 90% plus open air how in the hell could it ever have been destroyed by schrapnel, no matter it was the bloodiest event in our military history and we lost a generation because of it.

I have been to many of the sites and Thiepval memorial is the saddest place I have ever been (with one exception). Inscribed on the memorial are the names of over 70,000 missing. You can also visit the original trenches from which the Newfoundlanders and the Irish Guards made their attacks.

The Newfoundlanders went in 800 strong, later that day 65 men answered the roll call. It is humbling to read the stories of The "Pals" brigades, the Acrington Pals, the Salford Plas etc, the Glasgow Tramways battalion etc so poignant and such a bloody conflict, these men marched through the streets to join up and drilled with broomstickes because there were not enough rifles, the Tramways battalion wvene kept their Tram uniforms on for basic training because there were not enough uniforms.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.



Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.
"I have done my duty. I thank God for it!"
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Galbally
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The Somme

Post by Galbally »

Very eloquent. I thought the program was good because it was poingnant without being sentimental and it didn't really make any comment on the wider issues of the battle or the war, but just what happened. I was amazed at the honesty, candor, and lack of self-pity in the diaries, the 2 British officers featured from the Manchesters were particularly eloquent, and it just served to underline what an utter waste of men of both quality and character that the diasterous tactics used caused. I am also a student of these wars (the Somme is of particular interest as my great grandfather was there in the Irish guards) and it has made me quite pro European in my outlook as despite all the problems of the EU, of which there are many, I do see it as the best way (if run properly in line with the wishes of the people of the member states) of reconciling all the nationalities with each other and their dark history, thats another thread though.
"We are never so happy, never so unhappy, as we imagine"



Le Rochefoucauld.



"A smack in the face settles all arguments, then you can move on kid."



My dad 1986.
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Galbally
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The Somme

Post by Galbally »

I think in terms of the tactical errors that were made, its fairly obvious that the older senior officers had little real understanding of the power of modern weapons, and in particular the machine gun, which could lay a field of fire of 600 rpm over an area of 3,000 yards. They underestimated this weapon while (like Bothwell has said) were delusional about the ability of their artillery to demolish barbed wire emplacements and reinforced trench works. Soldiers were expected to walk upright across open terrain with no cover whatsoever into what was essentially a solid wall of bullets and shrapnel, not to mention high explosive shells, and rely on their courage and grit to get them to their objectives. What is so appaling is that this tactic was not realized to be the mass suicide that it was until 3 years into the war and millions upon millions of causualties. What is interesting is the fact that although there was desertion during the war, it was relaitivley limited, and despite the fact that it must have been apparent to the soliders involved in offensives that what they were being asked to do was more or less impossible, they still dutifully obeyed orders that sent them to almost certain and worse, pointless, deaths. Kubrick made an excellent film on this last point called "Paths of Glory" its one of the most interesting war movies I have seen, and for its time (I think around 1959) it must have been extremely controversial, actually I think it was banned in France.
"We are never so happy, never so unhappy, as we imagine"



Le Rochefoucauld.



"A smack in the face settles all arguments, then you can move on kid."



My dad 1986.
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Galbally
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The Somme

Post by Galbally »

ArnoldLayne wrote: Good points , both of you



Galbally you make an interesting point about the small number of desertions and I wonder if that has anything to do with their knowledge that a little way back behind the front, stood Military Policemen, whose duty it was to shoot fleeing deserters. What a choice to have to make , shot by the enemy or shot by your own. Either way its difficult for even us that have served in the modern era, to completely fathom such heroics and suffering. Only 9 of those brave heros still alive


Yes, I have read accounts where people have discussed how and why they act the way that they do in battles, and a common thread throughout these accounts is the power of simple peer pressure, in that these lads would see all their mates "going over the top" as it were and did not want to appear cowardly in front of everyone, despite their own fear. In fact, it also seems to be the case in mass desertions that again, once people see others saying "sod this lark, I'm not going over there!" they are more inclined to voice their own doubts, and of course there are famous cases of mass desertions in WW I, which isn't that surprising given the circumstances, but individual desertion is relatively small.
"We are never so happy, never so unhappy, as we imagine"



Le Rochefoucauld.



"A smack in the face settles all arguments, then you can move on kid."



My dad 1986.
Bothwell
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Joined: Thu Nov 25, 2004 1:35 am

The Somme

Post by Bothwell »

Although I hate these big cut and paste jobs you may find this interesting

Twenty-three Canadians, five New Zealanders, four Africans and one Jamaican are remembered alongside 274 British deserters. So far the scheme has proved popular: only 68 of the 306 stakes still require sponsorship.

Cdr David Childs, the arboretum's director, said last night: "Would modern teenagers react differently faced with a situation similar to the First World War? And would we react equally harshly? I don't think there is a person alive today who would say these deserters should be shot."

The memorial's centrepiece is an 8ft 6in statue of a deserter in a blindfold, with hands tied behind his back, facing a firing squad. Six conifers symbolise the riflemen. The sculpture, by Andy DeComyn, was inspired by two 17-year-old deserters, shot at Ypres in 1917.

They were Pte Herbert Burden, of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, and Pte Herbert Morris, of the 6th Battalion British West Indies Regiment. Both enlisted at 16, below the legal age for joining the Army.

John Hipkin, chairman of the Shot at Dawn Campaign, which seeks pardons for deserters shot for cowardice, said: "Pte Morris was shot for two reasons: one, executions tended to occur before a major offensive, and secondly, the army was very strict towards blacks and Asians. There had been some rioting among Chinese and Egyptian labourers and Pte Morris's death was intended to send a message to them."

Mr Hipkin founded the Shot at Dawn Campaign after the Public Record Office released files of First World War courts martial in 1990. He said: "I cannot come to terms with the shooting of under-age boys although the Ministry of Defence argues that 14 was the age of criminal responsibility."

In 1998, the MoD ruled that pardons could not be granted to First World War deserters due to the scarcity of available trial records. It recommended that war memorials and history books include the names of deserting soldiers shot for cowardice.

An MoD spokesman said yesterday: "We wouldn't endorse or condone this memorial as it is a private matter. The move to include the names of deserters on memorials was designed to remove the stigma from their families."

Jackie Fisher, co-ordinator of the Adopt a Soldier appeal, said: "We are not trying to get a government pardon, our message is that these men paid the ultimate sacrifice." A Royal British Legion spokesman said the memorial was acceptable. "I don't think attitudes have changed, but we have more medical knowledge of the circumstances surrounding desertion."
"I have done my duty. I thank God for it!"
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Galbally
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The Somme

Post by Galbally »

[QUOTE=Bothwell]Although I hate these big cut and paste jobs you may find this interesting

I don't like those posts either, though that was a good one, very interesting. I hope you don't mind me asking, but what's your opinon on the subject, as you were in the British Army, so your opinion has some relavance to this.

I did see a story on Irish television about an Irish infantry man who was shot for desertion in WW I, it was interesting as he maintained, (in true Irish fashion) that he had only gone to the village at the rear to get milk and fags or whatever it was they wanted, and some of his comrades apparently testified to his version of events. Anyway, they didn't believe him and he was duly sentanced, anyway, on his day of execution his light-hearted jocularity regarding his fate put off the firing squad who felt bad about shooting such a fella. Anyway, he apparantely told them off for being so soft and told them to get on with it and that it wasn't their fault, sad really, but makes me proud in a funny way (thats if its true of course).
"We are never so happy, never so unhappy, as we imagine"



Le Rochefoucauld.



"A smack in the face settles all arguments, then you can move on kid."



My dad 1986.
Bothwell
Posts: 1037
Joined: Thu Nov 25, 2004 1:35 am

The Somme

Post by Bothwell »

IMO there were very few if any soldiers shot fro what I would term cowardice in WW1. Contrary to popular opinion "Shell Shock" was a ercognised condition but only by certain medics and this knowledge was squashed by the Generals who thought that it would lead to mass refusals to go over the top.

In my lifetime I have been very adjacent to artillery firing for several hours and I cannot imagine what bombardments 24/7 would have been like, the very lownumbers of "Cowards" is testimony to not only the Tommy but the junior officers who lead them.

It is a common misconception that all Army officers of WW1 were of the same calibre of the General Staff this is patently not true, there were 19 year old officers leading hardened soldiers and they followed these boys to the end, officers were 4 times more likely to be killed than the ranks, in addition you had the ranks that actually run the army particularly in combat, the Non- coms, a lot of whom were seen as father figures to the men, theymay have moaned like hell about them but they followd them none the less.

The forces then as now operate on a principle of instilling the principle that you don't let your mates down, that is why soldiers go into situations that any normal person would judge as dangerous and refuse. As a soldier you can't if just one of you goes you all go it's that simple.

For all the slaughter WW1 saw heroics on a scale that I hope we will never see again and even if the numbers executed were all for genuine cowardice (which again I say i disagree) then 300 odd out of the number who served is remarkable.

I have no worries about telling anyone that on the few occasions I found myself in combat situations I was scared half to death most of the time, usually when i realised that those pointy bullet things could hurt you.

You cope with it through a shared sense that you are in it together and of course lot's of black humour, whether myself or any of my colleauges could have coped with WW1 will thank god never be tested
"I have done my duty. I thank God for it!"

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