The 1st of July 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the deadliest offensive of the First World War, the Battle of the Somme.
100,000 allied troops were sent over the top in an attempt to break the stalemate that had developed against the German line. British Troops were mown down by machine gun and rifle fire and suffered very heavy losses with over 57,000 casualties.
Over the next fortnight, the British Army continued with short bursts of attack and the number of casualties continued to rise rapidly. The lists of the dead and wounded began to appear in the newspapers.
And still the battle raged on – with the Allies making small advances up and down the line.
In August – one month into the battle – a public information film for the home-front was shown in cinemas in the UK. The film contained actual footage from the battle and was watched by nearly half the population. The impact was profound and gave the British Public a sense of determination to see the conflict come to an end.
World War One saw a huge surge in the use of propaganda materials being used, not only to encourage hatred against the enemy but also to help enlist more support. Given that the majority of the armies across Europe were made up of conscripts, there was a need for more volunteers to fight as the list of the wounded and dead got greater. Perhaps the most famous of these being the “Your Country Needs YOU” Lord Kitchener poster.
The battle raged on well into Winter, with the offensives finally ceasing on 19th November 1916. In 141 days of fierce fighting, bloodshed and horror the British forces only managed to gain 7 miles, failed to break the German line and suffered over 350,000 dead or wounded.
An incredible account of the battle is captured in the “1st Bedfordshires Part 1: Mons to the Somme” book. Written by Steven Fuller, this personal account covers the story of the battalion from the beginning of 1914 through the Battle of the Somme, until the end of 1916.
There have also been many novels containing realistic depictions of the life of soldiers during this time. “All Quiet on the Western Front” penned by German World War One veteran, Erich Maria Remarque, tells of the physical and mental stress that affected soldiers when returning from the front and their struggle to deal with civilian life.
The horrors witnessed on the frontline were captured in a number of enigmatic, poignant and haunting poems written by the soldiers who fought and the families they left behind.
The beautiful “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae, the tragic “My Boy Jack” by Rudyard Kipling and the harrowing “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. These poems have been recited, studied and treasured for generations and even now after 100 years.
“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.”
Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est