Ten Things You Need to Know About the Battle of the Somme
- Worst day in British military history. The scale of this is hard to get your head around. The first day of battle saw 20,000 dead in one day.
- Can you hear me now? Prior to the battle (which took place in France) Brits bombed the German lines so hard that Londoners could hear the artillery and it rattled shop windows.
- One Million is a lot. The battle went on for four months with no significant changes in the lines. Total casualties for this short time – for both sides – was over one million. Let that sink in. This was one of the most horrific battles in human history.
- Tanks for everything. In an effort to break the deadlock of trench warfare the tank was introduced. It rocketed along at 5 mph and 4 out of 5 times simply got stuck. Improvements were made.
- British Public Relations, not at their best. Not knowing how to cover a war on this scale, government officials decides to film it – to show the importance of the war to people back home. Theaters were flooded and it showed on every movie screen in London. Public reaction was more horrified than anything else and that was the end of that.
- Say goodbye to your friends. This battle got rid of PALS units. Prior to the battle, whole towns or clubs would sign up to be in a special “Pals” unit, where the lads knew they’d battle alongside their friends. When entire groups were wiped out, it was too hard on the people back home – to have all the boys killed in a single battle. They stopped doing that.
- They had their superstitions. A bombed out church in Albert France soon became famous for their steeple which featured The Leaning Virgin of Albert. The golden Madonna had once been lifting the Christ child to the heavens, now appeared to be hurtling him toward the ground. Fitting, really. Soldiers from both sides watched her for miles around and ascribed significance to the statue, many deciding that when the Virgin fell Britain (or Germany) would fall. Eventually the Brits destroyed her just before abandoning the village of Albert to the Germans.
- Pushers of modern medicine. This war brought huge advances blood transfusions and blood banks. Before this battle, the idea of “blood typing” was a wacky new idea from Canada and the US. But to stem the tide of the dead, new ideas were promoted heavily (thanks guys!), which help us all today.
- We don’t need no stinkin’ parachutes! Though it is thought of as a ground offensive, the Royal Flying Corps lost 800 aircraft. And in those days, the pilots weren’t issued parachutes on the fear that they’d jump too early. Way to prioritize airplanes over human beings!
- Still dead. One hundred years later and the ground still bears the scars. In many places, nothing will still grow today.
Even after reading dozens of books, going there, I still can’t quite imagine the scale of this thing.
I became interested in the war when still in High School. When I was able to do my student teaching in Belgium, I was able to feed my WWI monkey even more. I went to all kinds of sites, even talked to soldiers from the war. Eventually I wrote a book, “Angel of the Somme,” which covers most of these topics. It’s on sale for 99 cents for a limited time. Like, right now. You can get it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and wherever ebooks are sold. You can get it in paperback too, but that ain’t gonna be 99 cents.