There have been many men is history who had Iron Qualities – those characteristics that make real men. And sometimes, they die too soon before they can really make their mark on the world. I’m taking an opportunity to stop, reflect and remember a generation lost before they could really become men in their own right. The fallen at the Battle of the Somme .
1st July 2016 marked the centenary of the start of World War One’s more bloody battles. In the days before, the Allied forces had bombarded the German defensive line with heavy artillery near the banks of the River Somme in north-east France.
The bombardment was supposed to cut through enemy barbed wire and demoralise the German army so that when the Allies went over the top, it would be more a procession than an actual battle.
And so on 1st July 1916 at 7.28am, the Allied British and French forces left their trenches and went over the top expecting little resistance from the German side.
But on that morning, it quickly became clear that the bombing campaign hadn’t really worked as planned. The Allies marched into No Man’s Land shoulder to shoulder and were quickly gunned down by the Germans in a hail of machine-gun fire.
The Battle of the Somme began
Instead of achieving a decisive victory that would hasten the end of the War, it turned into one of the bloodiest battles in history. Countless thousands would be killed, go missing in action, or suffer life-changing physical and mental injuries.
The Battle continued until November 1916 and by its end, over 1.3 million were lost or wounded – the majority of those being killed.
1,300,000 lives either ended or changed forever. And all because a young Serbian nationalist killed an Austrian Prince two years earlier.
That assassination in Sarajevo sparked a series of events that eventually led to the events of The Somme. Along a stretch of land near the France-Belgium border, thousands of men lay in trenches opposite each other in conditions that assaulted all five senses.
They coexisted with rats in the thousands and fought their way through mud so deep it could swallow a man whole. Their clothes were heavily infested with lice that made them itch like hell. Disease was everywhere, as was the sound of constant shell bombardment.
‘Our hands are earth, our bodies mud and our eyes puddles of rain’ (Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front)
And that was the last thing those men knew about this world as they went over the top on the blow of a whistle that day in 1916. A world that was ended in an explosion of blood, noise and metal.
Those two words – ‘The Somme’ – now symbolise an entire generation of men lost to the futility of industrialised trench warfare.
There have been countless tributes and memorials to all who died in that Battle. For now, it’s enough to say that on 1st July 1916 some 35,000 men died following orders. And we remember.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow….