A century ago the first news stories relating to the Battle of the Somme began to appear in the British press. There was little awareness at this stage of the huge scale of losses on 1st July 1916, nor that the attack had been a failure except in some limited areas.
Illustrating the kicking of Billie Neville’s footballs on 1st July 1916.
But the press were already busy giving the story of the battle a positive spin. The Illustrated London News was a broadsheet size illustrated magazine with in-house artists who depicted the battle in contemporary drawings when at this stage largely no photographs were available.
Indian Cavalry at High Wood
These illustrations depict the bravery of the British soldier on the battlefield, and while they are propaganda they are well observed with details of uniforms and equipment all correct: in some respect that was a vital factor in them being believable.One hundred years later these images are part of the history themselves but they give a fascinating insight into how the Somme was depicted at the time.
Back in the 1980s I had the pleasure to interview several hundred veterans of the Great War. These recordings comes from interviews with E.G. Williams who served on the Somme with the Liverpool Pals, on the battlefield between Maricourt and Montauban on 1st July 1916. A century later we remember the generation that fought on the Somme through the words and memories of survivors like him.
The photo above shows Great War veterans Harry Fellows, Hugh Parry-Morris MM, Tom Price and behind them Bill Bashford, at Lochnagar Crater on 1st July 1985. The gentleman on the right was a French WW1 veteran.
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.