New Somme Guidebooks for Somme100

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.

firstdaysommeA 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.

holtsMajor & 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.

middlebrookThe 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.

Somme Images Go Online

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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.

 

 

British Legion Announces Somme100 Commemorations

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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.

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More information on the Royal British Legion Website.

Somme 100 Ballot Goes Online

The Department of Culture, Media & Sport website for the Somme Centenary ballot went online yesterday. The website allows you to register for the official commemoration of the Battle of the Somme which will take place at the Thiepval Memorial, in the heart of the Somme, on 1st July 2016.

Registration was quick and easy. You add your personal details, which also include your passport number, and then the details are sent on. I had a registration email in just a few seconds.

Two things surprised me: the site promotes a special Eurostar service which will take those with tickets across for the day. Good for Eurostar but not so good for local hotels and services on the Somme. I also noted that anyone under 18 could not register; personally I would have preferred to see that set at 16. Having said that, so far the approach shows that DCMS are taking this seriously and that is to be welcomed.

Countdown To The Somme Centenary

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A year from today it will be the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. While many of the battles and campaigns of 1915 have been largely ignored by the media this year, the Somme has become a by-word for the Great War to a wider public and the year 2016 is likely to be something of a repeat of 2014 which much interest, many new books and a host of related events.

As a count-down to the anniversary, this site will be expanding over the next year with lot’s of new Somme related posts, photographs, films and information.

You can access the site via the WordPress address which probably brought you here or quickly via www.somme1916.com.

Meanwhile have a read of some of the existing articles such as about the 50th Anniversary of the Battle or young Second Lieutenant Eric Rupert Heaton who died on 1st July 1916 at Beaumont Hamel.

Somme 50th Anniversary: Veterans Return

I am currently digitising parts of a scrapbook kept during the 50th Anniversary period of the Great War. It contains a fascinating insight into attitudes at that time, and many letters to newspapers from veterans – some of them well known Great War authors – putting their view across. Much of this will appear at a later stage on my WW1 Centenary website, but as a first offering he is a small Somme piece from the scrapbook.

This article was published in the Sunday Times on 3rd July 1966 and was entitled ‘The Field Where 900 of one regiment died’. It was written by one of their correspondents who had travelled to the Somme to cover the event. The photograph above showed some of the veterans present and was captioned “The valley of the shadow of death: those who lived look now from a German strong-point across No Man’s Land to their own lines – and their comrades graves.”

The main body of the article is reproduced below. It gives an interesting insight into press attitudes to the Great War at the time – some of which, it seems, has little changed in fifty years. It has to be viewed in the context of the times, of course; on the reverse of this clipping is an article about raids on Hanoi and ‘hopes of peace’ in Vietnam. War, in a very different way to 1914-18, was still very much on people’s minds at that time.

“Thiepval is dominated by the Lutyens memorial, an ugly red-brick arch. Perhaps the ugliness was deliberate… Overcome by memories, the British veterans of the Somme have lost their national reserve. Many wept at the Thiepval memorial ceremony when two Canadian DC3s flew dramatically low to flood Flanders poppies over lines of British, French and Canadian troops, plus 500 best suited old campaigners.

In the drab estaminets of Albert and Bapaume, where even the most anarchic French teenagers have jostled each other to help the veterans in trouble with their excruciating Great War French, the atmosphere has been party-like. But every so often some reflexive memory of the Somme horrors has stopped conversations in their tracks.

“My brother, that was Sgt Moyrah Williamson, was killed on September 16 – I think at Ginchy. We managed to find his bones in 1931.” said Mr Phillip Williamson, a Preston poultry farmer who fought at La Boisselle.

“My brother disappeared somewhere at Ypres.” said Arthur Morris, another veteran, who comes from Stechford, Birmingham.

This kind of dialogue of death has been commonplace in the last 48 hours.

Colonel Roberts, of Birchington, Kent and his wife Nelly May… were counting names at Thiepval. “That’s where my men were murdered.” said the Colonel, pointing to the deserted field overhung by a haze of summer butterflies.

“I’ve counted 900 names in my husband’s regiment, the Duke of Westminsters.”, Mrs Roberts said. “We saw my brother’s name at the Arras Memorial.”

There has been no chauvinism, no military pomposity and no hypocrisy at the Somme commemoration. The occasion seems to have defied anyone’s attempt to vulgarise it. Even commercial exploitation has been absent.

At the end of the Thiepval ceremony, the black staff cars drove off imperiously, carrying the British Ambassador, the French Minister for War Veterans, and a clutch of Generals, red-tabbed, red-faced and Sam Browne-belted.

“It’s just like old times,” said a veteran waiting with the others in the sun for their transport to arrive, “I always knew I should have joined the Staff.”

They went on waiting in front of the memorial on this turf so immaculately maintained by the War Graves Commission. Thiepval is the only place for miles where the flower beds don’t have a sign telling the public not to walk on them.

“They would be irrelevant here,” Mr Hoadley said, “I think everyone understands what this earth cost. The only people who really know about it are underneath. I think this anniversary will be the last. When it comes to 75 years, we’ll all be dead too, and the Somme will seem as abstract as Waterloo.”