As Somme100 approaches two new films have gone online as part of the commemorations. The first of these is The Somme – A Spoken Word Poem which is a specially commissioned piece by British spoken-word poet Molly Case. This really is an incredibly moving film and the poem is just wonderful, proving that poetry matters and modern interpretations of the war through poetry still more than valid. Congratulations to the Royal British Legion for this as part of their own Somme100 initiatives.
The second film is from the Imperial War Museum and looks at some facts and figures about the Battle of the Somme but presents these in a fresh way. I particularly liked the way they blended old film onto the landscape today.
Epitaphs of the Great War: The Somme by Sarah Wearne
(Uniform Press, ISBN 978 1 910500 521,132pp, hardback, £10.99)
I have been following the author of this book, Sarah Wearne, for a while on Twitter. She posts interesting and unusual inscriptions from British and Commonwealth wargraves of the Great War. This book is essentially a printed version of this but with a lot more information than it is possible to post on Twitter.
The author has selected a large number of inscriptions that not only give insights into grief and commemoration, but also into the myriad faces and aspects of the Battle of the Somme. In that respect the book makes a good battlefield companion, to carry when on the ground and follow some of those mention in it. It really is an excellent little book which was fascinating to read and the author has put a lot of work into selecting some meaningful inscriptions that help bring alive events a century ago. Recommended.
The book can be purchased via the Publisher’s Website.
The Battle of the Somme and visiting the Somme battlefields continues to fascinate us and for Somme100 Pen & Sword books have published a number of new battlefield guidebooks, or reprints of classic editions.
A Visitors Guide: The First Day of the Somme by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland
(Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 9781473827998, 233pp, illustrated, softback, £14.99)
Cooksey and Murland have produced a whole series of excellent battlefield guide books covering some lesser known locations but here they focus on the Blackest Day of the British Army – 1st July 1916, the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. The book looks in detail at the whole battlefield from Gommecourt to Maricourt, and the authors provide battlefield trails that can be followed in a car, on foot or by bike. The directions and maps are good, the text very well researched and backed up with excellent modern photos and some useful contemporary ones. This is a really superb Somme guidebook which should be in the knapsack of everyone going to Somme100 and who wants to explore the 1st July battlefields in depth.
Major & Mrs Holt’s Somme 100th Anniversary Definitive Battlefield Guide by Toni & Valmai Holt
(Pen & Sword Books 2016, ISBN 9781473887534, 368pp, illustrated plus separate map, hardback, £25.00)
The Holts have been publishing battlefield guidebooks for decades and this Somme100 edition of their popular Somme guide comes in a limited edition hardback format. The guidebook has been greatly explained with new photos, and extra information and locations, and also some battlefield walks, which is a good addition. This is a really high quality book with excellent images, and nicely presented, and the supporting map makes it the complete package for the first time visitor to the Somme battlefields. It is good to see the Holts being recognised for their work and this new edition is a welcome guidebook for all those going to Picardy this year.
The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields by Martin and Mary Middlebrook
(Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 9781473879072, 383pp, illustrated, softback, £14.99)
This classic Somme guidebook first came out in the 1990s. Martin Middlebrook was renowed for his book on the First Day of the Somme and he uses that knowledge, and knowledge of the ground here to produce a fantastically detailed book. This book has depth which many guidebooks do not, and the supporting text and maps are excellent. This edition includes a few updates but its only criticism is that some of the information is out of date now. But this is a guidebook worth owning.
The Somme centenary is resulting in a profusion of books about the Battle of the Somme. These are the latest Somme offerings from Pen & Sword books.
Slaughter On The Somme 1st July 1916 by Martin Mace & John Grehan
(Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 9781473892699, 514 pp, illustrated, softback, £16.99)
This amazing book is an incredible resource of all the War Diaries of every single unit that went into action on 1st July 1916: the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. The book examines the battlefield from Gommecourt in the North to Montauban in the South, so covering the whole Somme front. For each unit there are some notes and then an exact reproduction of the diary. Many units lost so many officers and men that in some cases the information is sparse but others have long and fascinating accounts. Maps in the book help to make sense of where units were, and there are some good illustrations. An absolutely invaluable resource for family historians and battlefield visitors who want to have the detail of events a century ago in one handy volume. Highly recommended.
Ancestor’s Footsteps: The Somme 1916 by Andrew Rawson
(Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 9781473864207, 240pp, illustrated/maps, softback, £12.99)
At first sight most people would wonder what this book is as it appears to be a list of divisions with maps. But actually it is one of the most useful Great War books I have come across in some time. Using the book you can look up the details of a unit, perhaps your grandfather’s battalion, and it then takes you to the relevant pages where you can see with text and via maps where they fought. This means you can quickly and simply put together a framework of where a man was on the Somme, which normally would take some time. Superb companion for those visiting the battlefields for Somme100 and those wanting to research where their ancestor fought. Highly recommended!
The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered by Peter Liddle
(Pen & Sword Books 2016, ISBN 9781783400515, 180pp, illustrated, hardback, £19.99)
This is a reprint of an older book Peter Liddle did in the 1980s. Liddle was then working on forming an archive of WW1 material which is today with the University of Leeds. The book gives a good overview of the battle and includes material which was part of the archives, so many rare and previously unseen accounts and photographs. The ‘reconsidered’ part of the book is as Liddle examines the battle and considers it a victory, which in the 1980s was not a popular view – although he concedes it was certainly a costly victory. A good book and it is good to see it back in print.
As part of my own contribution to Somme100 I am placing images relating to the Battle of the Somme online so they can be downloaded and used by teachers, those working in WW1 education, battlefield guides and those working on Somme100 projects and exhibitions. The images are all copyright expired from wartime publications and are available to use for all. They are stored on Dropbox and accessible via the link below.
The images cover wide ranging aspects of the Battle of the Somme, and hopefully will be of particular interest to those who work in education. I hope you find them of use – and if you do make use of them leave some comments below to tell everyone about what you are doing!
The images can be downloaded here: Somme100 Images in Dropbox.
Somme: 141 Days, 141 Lives by Alexandra Churchill & Andrew Holmes
(History Press 2016, ISBN 978 0 7509 6532 3, 232pp, hardcover, illustrated, £25)
This new book by Alexandra Churchill and Andrew Holmes is one of many new titles that have appeared in the lead up to Somme100. Many of these books tell us little new, but here we have a fabulous book with some stunning photographs of the battlefield today, which does genuinely shed some new light on the battle through the stories of so many who fell there in 1916.
The book looks at 141 soldiers who died on the Somme and follows a chronological approach so you can trace the course of the battle, and the history of the Somme campaign, through the lives and deaths of these men. It makes fascinating reading and there are some great stories, from poets to Pals to fathers and sons, and men from many nations, not just Britain and the Commonwealth.
This is a hugely engaging book, well written and researched, and the stunning photos of the battlefields as they are today by Andrew Holmes make it a beautiful book to own, too. Highly recommended.
The book is available from the History Press website.
Historian A.J.P. Taylor was a prolific broadcaster and writer, and while much of his work does not have the same standing it once did, something he once said in one of his documentaries has always had resonance with me. Taylor said that for him the Twentieth Century did not really begin until 1st July 1916: the First Day of the Battle of the Somme.
What he meant by that was that the terrible losses sustained that day heralded a new age, a new type of warfare: industrial warfare on a scale hitherto unknown and which would mean casualties on a previously unimaginable scale too. That this type of battle, that death of this magnitude would not only see the start of a new phase of the Great War but it would pave the way for much of the rest of the century.
A hundred years ago on 1st June 1916, along the dusty lanes of the Somme, in and around the old villages behind the front, the men of Rawlinson’s Fourth Army were already beginning their preparations for the Big Push. Hard as it is for us to imagine these were men who were not dreading what was coming: the majority had trained for this moment for more than a year, they had a sense of duty that it is impossible for us to fathom now and felt they were a part of something far bigger than just themselves.
A.J.P. Taylor would have said that they should have been dreading what was to come, but to think of these men as lambs walking towards a slaughter misses much of what made these men tick and takes away any meaning to their sacrifice.
Yet a century ago the world was in its last gasps of innocence as the brutal reality of twentieth century warfare was about to demonstrate its terrible power on a summer’s day on the Somme, as a generation of men at the apex of their lives and the summit of their pride walked into machine-gun oblivion. We should never forget that Black Day but equally the Somme generation needs to be seen as much more than just bodies lying shattered in No Man’s Land.
The Royal British Legion has announced the plans they have to help the Nation commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme this summer.
The Royal British Legion’s Remembrance programme includes a free community toolkit, an app with Dan Snow, daily vigils at the Thiepval Memorial in France and activities at the Memorial Arboretum, the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance.
More information on the Royal British Legion Website.