Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The 1916 Battle of the Somme


As we look back across the 75 years or more which separate us from the reality of the Somme, the long-term, ingrained, emotional significance remains clear. It is captured in the kinship between the perceptions of those who actually endured and of those who over the generations have 'received' the Somme as a matter of heritage. For the former, families whose numbers are measured in hundreds of thousands, there had been nothing in this Great War hitherto which had come near to making so ineffaceable an impact. The East Coast raids, the invasion scare, the Zeppelin, the beginnings of commodity shortages, the spreading rash of auxiliary hospitals, the concentration upon war industries, new opportunities for women, all these events or developments had certainly made some impression. Losses without discernible gain in France, failure at the Dardanelles, a seemingly disappointing record for the Royal Navy (most immediately felt from what was known of what had happened at Jutland), these things too had educated the nation away from the suspended exhilaration of glorious victories to be won in defending the Nation's honour. It was going to be a long war. By June 1916 this was fully recognised. At the same time, a tremendous endeavour was about to be launched in France. Everyone at home knew that the young citizen soldiers were now ready in huge numbers. They had had a thorough training and colossal industrial effort had supplied them with every need in guns and ammunition. An uplifting victory would surely be won now and this might open up the way towards ultimate victory.