Think of your Mam and bite your lip
Be strong lad, Go thee well
And make your peace with Jesus
As they send you into Hell
“We are your ghosts, in this game played by monkeys, organised by lunatics”
1 July 1916. Remember those who gave their lives on this day and in the following months during the battle of the Somme. May they rest in peace.
In almost every Village, Town or City in Britain you will find memorials to the dead of WW1. The country remembered and still remembers them today. on Armistace day, 11th November, Britain's main tribute to its dead of all wars is held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Incredibly just yards from the Cenotaph stands the statue of Douglas Haig, riding horseback and looking down on those who march. When I visited Whitehall I was disgusted at the sight of his statue. Only my respect for the nearby Cenotaph stopped me spitting on Haig's pompous monument.
At the start of WW1 many men from across Britain rushed to join up, most inspired by the Lord Kitchener posters. These men, although trained and disciplined, lacked the experience of the battlefields, their baptism of warfare would come at the Somme where they were brought in to swell the numbers.
It can be said that the battle of the Somme achieved what it set out to do and released the pressure on the French at Verdun, thus stopping a German breakthrough. It can be claimed that the Somme taught the British to fight and ditch its Victorian tactics. The battle brought new fighting methods and saw for the first time the introduction of the Tank. But nothing can justify the terrible loss of life from 1 July to 18 November 1916.
24 June 1916, an 8 day artillery bombardment began on the German front line trenches, the British commanders believed that it would entirely destroy all German defences, and that the attacking British troops could then walk across No Man's Land and take the German front lines. The bombardment however had failed to destroy either the German front line barbed wire or the heavily-built concrete bunkers.
1 July 1916. 7.30 am. The whistles blow and the British and allies begin their attack. The day is a disaster, by its end 60,000 British soldiers are casualties, 19,000 of them lay dead on the Battlefields. It is the darkest day in the history of the British Army. Douglas Haig showed contempt and ignorance, believing that the machine gun could be defeated by infantry advancing in numbers nice and slow, armed with a rifle and a few Mills bombs while being weighed down by heavy backpacks. He had said in 1915 "The machine gun is a much over rated weapon," Its simple, Haig was a lunatic who cared nothing of his men and he demonstrated this the next day by sending the men in again. Over the next few days he continued, then weeks, then months. Finally the weather turned in mid November 1916 and the churned battlefields became muddy bogs, they were impossible to move across, and so the Battle of the Somme ground to a halt. Over 1 million men on all sides had died fighting for a few small gains of land.
In the first few weeks of July 1916 the telegrams began to arrive at homes across Britain, informing relatives of the death of their loved ones. The shock at the scale of the deaths was huge and questions where raised, it changed peoples views about how the war was being fought. The terrible loss of life gave coin to the expression ; The Lost Generation '
Incredibly Haig was allowed to do it all again in 1917, this time at Passchendaele, where he continued sending in suicidal waves to be mown down by the machine guns. Of course by this time many of the 1914 volunteers lay dead on the Somme so it was the newly conscripted men that lay down their lives on the ridge of Passchendaele.
Haig was also responsible for sending men to their death by firing squad, many without any kind of fair trial. He deserved his nickname of ' The Butcher '
The Tommies lived in filthy rat infested trenches and faced constant danger, Haig lived in luxury miles behind the front lines. The returning Tommies came home to a jobless country, received a tiny pension, and had to try to adjust to civilian life after the horrors they had witnessed. Haig was knighted, received a £100,000 golden handshake and upon his death in 1928 was given a state funeral. Many of the Tommies lie in unmarked graves or remain still unfound on the battlefields.
Prime Minister David Lloyd George remarked after the Battle of Passchendaele that it was hard to avoid the impression that 'Haig does not care how many men he loses. He just squanders the lives of these boys.'
The Tommies remain Not Forgotten.