"It was our old Blood-bath – the Somme."

(I normally don’t post about history unrelated to education, but wanted to make an exception here. I’ve been researching the 1900-1920 period for a few years, including the First World War, and prepared the following for another website. I thought you, my readers, might find this of interest.  Let me know if you’d like more of this sort of thing.)

On July 1st 1916 began the deadliest day in British history. One hundred years ago today, British imperial soldiers left their trenches to attack German lines supposedly suppressed by an extraordinary artillery barrage. By the day’s end 20,000 of them would be dead, the first casualties of nearly half a million by the terrible battle’s end. All told almost a million casualties occurred on all sides, the Somme became Britain’s iconic WWI event, and the struggle has been controversial ever since.


In 2016 commemorations have begun.  In France one person preserves and maintains a single crater from the battle to this day. Elsewhere is the massive Thiepval monument.

A BBC gallery. 27 images from the Telegraph. Photos colorized and annotated. More photos.
Photos, maps, paintings from from Wikimedia Commons.
Pierre’s photo impressions.
From the Canadian War Museum.
Items in the Europeana collection. More than 1000 hits (!) in the First World War British Poetry Archive.
Flickr photos. Pins from Pinterest.
Timeline of the full almost five months long battle.
Animated map.
Very detailed map.

A film shot in 1916, during the battle:

Ten quotations.
Reporter Philip Gibbs describes the battle.
Alfred Ball, one soldier’s account.
Alfred Dambitsch on destructive technology.
Commanding general Douglas Haig‘s summary of the battle at year’s end.
German Crown Prince Rupprecht reflects on the British attack during the battle.
The German official statement.
John Buchan‘s 1916 account (between bouts of writing spy fiction about WWI).
The first appearance of the tank in war.
A 1918 Michelin book, “In memory of the Michelin workmen and employees who died gloriously for their country”, followed by their 1919 battlefield guide.
John Masefield‘s 1919 history.
Alan Seeger‘s death; “I Have A Rendezvous With Death”.
On the French role and the German experience.

“Somme Battle Stories”, AJ Dawson, published in 1916, read aloud.
Tanks on the Somme.

WWI_Tyneside_Irish_Brigade_advancing_1_July_1916 Wikimedia

From a 1916 British film.
From a 1927 British film.
Interviews with veterans, combined with contemporary footage.
More footage.
Archaeological digs into British and German trenches.
“The devil is coming”, the BBC’s 1964 documentary. A 1976 documentary , narrated by Leo McKern. A more recent BBC work.
Here Comes Kitchener’s Army.
2006 BBC/Open University documentary.
Examining contemporary footage.

(If you’re curious about my research, I’ve been sharing some notes on Goodreads.  Here are two shelves on that site, one for WWI, another for the Progressive Era.


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10 Responses to "It was our old Blood-bath – the Somme."

  1. My interest will be more piqued when you move on to WWII and Omaha, Battle of the Hedgerows, liberation of St Lo, Remagen, Bulge, Paris…all places and events my father fought in. Why are you interested in this particular double decade?

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Sandy ~ so did my father, although from a different perspective, but knowing more about the Great War contributes hugely to following the next. Consider insights into Sykes-Picot, backstory of contemporary Middle East and North Africa as lagniappe. Then there is the Russian Revolution…

      Watch “The Shock of the New 2: The Powers That Be” in History of Art by series by Robert Hughes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-tTQiICvTw

      • Vanessa, excellent reference, thank you.

        We each have our own threads of interest and passion that draw us to study different eras and aspects of history. I’m intrigued to find out why Bryan is drawn to that particular double decade.

        I am very interested in art history, so your video recommendation is appreciated!

      • Quite right, Vanessa, about WWI being a crack in history. It’s like 1789, or 1989, when everything suddenly teeters and falls over.

    • A couple of reasons, Sandy.

      Recently folks have been trying to reclaim the term “progressive” as a replacement for “liberal”, which makes an intuitive sense for me. But I never studied much American history after, oh, age 14 or so, so I wanted to dig into the Progressive era and see where the term came from.

      The more I looked, the weirder and more complex things became. So I’ve been patiently digging into 1900-1920, trying to suss things out.

      Second reason: in Europe this is the centenary of WWI, and people are looking hard at that legacy. (Here in the States we don’t notice this, and won’t until a few months from now) So there’s a ton of research being done now, which is fascinating.

      Don’t get me wrong – WWII is pretty extraordinary too. My son’s fascinated with that period, and I follow him along. That one’s less controversial (so far!) and I know it a bit better. But maybe I can pry loose some time…

  2. Bryan,
    Thank you for this timely reminder that we might dare to see as clearly as we do because we stand on the shoulders of all (the giants) who have gone before. Have a good 4th.

  3. VanessaVaile says:

    More,” Century of Violence: What World War I Did to the Middle East” (part of a WW I series in Der Spiegel, 2014), http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/world-war-i-led-to-a-century-of-violence-in-the-middle-east-a-946052.html

    May I also recommend Kubrick’s Paths of Glory?

    • A superb film. Just rewatched it with my son a few months ago.

      WWI changed so much. Definitely the Middle East – check out this week’s enormous New York Times special on the region, which sees the post-Ottoman settlement at the root of so many problems since.
      Not to mention what happened to Germany and the Russian empire! And music, painting, novels, class relations, the sudden ascent to power of this backwoods Yankee republic…

  4. Pingback: The doom of an extraordinary mind: the case of Geoffrey Pyke | Bryan Alexander

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