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Remembering the Somme July 4, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Miscellaneous.

Today, July 4, 2006, America’s 230th birthday. Most of us look up at fireworks and remember ideals like freedom, democracy and sacrifice. We remember American war dead and waving flags but for the last three days my mind has been stuck in 1916.

Three days and 90 years ago one of the most tragic chapters in the book of humanity was etched onto the pages of history.

The date, July 1, 1916. The time, 7:30 a.m. The setting, the River Somme in northern France.

The events that unfolded that first day will never be forgotten by history. They ushered in an age of terrifyingly modern warfare. A future of mechanization and metal, of terrible machines capable of terrible destruction. No future conflcit would ever be fought or viewed in the same light as before the Battle of the Somme and WWI in general.

The prelude to the battle, a hellish seven-day artillery barrage, rattled even the soldiers it was launched to defend. The German Army realized the Allies were about to launch an assault and took cover in deep dugouts, the bombardment didn’t really affect their forces. When the artillery barrage ended the Anglo-French forces moved from their trenches to take the supposedly undefended German lines.

The lines were not undefended and German machine gunners exacted a terrible toll on the attacking infantry.

July 1, 1916 became the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. Of the 57,470 casualties suffered by the British 19,240 were killed in action, on July 1, during one day of fighting. The casualties were enormous, almost unbearable. Life was worthless for those months in northern France. Each moment was a countdown to your last. It must have been terrifying. No glory to be had in the senseless slaughter at the Somme. For all the relief it provided the French at Verdun, casualties at the Somme exceeded those at Verdun by the end of the battle.

At long and weary end, November 21, the battle’s death toll was unimaginably horrific.

Total Casualties (Battle of the Somme)

Allies (British Empire)

United Kingdom: 360,000+
Canada: 25,000
Australia: 23,000
New Zealand: 7,408
South Africa: 3,000+
Newfoundland: 2,000+
Total British Empire: 419,654; KIA/MIA: 95,675

Allies (French)
204,253; KIA/MIA: 50,756

Total Allied: 623,907; KIA/MIA: 146,431

Central (German)
465,000-600,000; KIA/MIA: 164,055; PW: 31,000

The losses were catastrophic. Whenever I think about this moment in history my skin chills and my brain goes all tingly, it is truly sad.

Have a safe and happy Fourth. Try to remember the freedom we hold so dear has been fought for by people the world over, not just Americans.

I will leave you with the words of Wilfred Owen, a young poet, taken way too soon during the last week of the Great War and the words of a great Jedi Master. Below that you will find some good links to some web resources about the battle.

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

-Wilfred Owen

“Wars not make one great.”

-Master Yoda

Somme Resources:

Imperial War Museum-Battle of the Somme
Wikipedia entry
BBC History Page
FirstWorldWar.com article
Animated Battle Maps (PBS)



1. yinn - July 4, 2006

This link has a further breakdown, includes such countries as Turkey, Romania, Belgium & Greece. Some of the smaller countries suffered proportionately more.

While I hesitate to credit Geo Lucas for much (he irritates me), Yoda was certainly got it right & always said it best. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the Dark Side.”

2. yinn - July 4, 2006

Have you watched the Blackadder series devoted to Brits entrenched during WWI? If not, you must.

3. dr. gonzo - July 4, 2006

I will pick it up, trust me no love lost for Lucas, but I am a huge Star Wars geek. :)

4. dr. gonzo - July 4, 2006

Thanks for the link, I guess I should have clarified, the above casualty numbers were for the Battle of the Somme only.

5. yinn - July 5, 2006

Oh, sorry, I did misunderstand. I find it hard to absorb the sheer numbers, both of the entire war & of this one battle–I guess that is one of the points of your article.

I live with Star Wars geeks. It’s not so bad, really, except when someone goes to the “making of” part of a DVD for the Lucas Love-fest. Bleagh.

6. dr. gonzo - July 5, 2006

Haha. The guy sure does think highly of himself considering the Star Wars saga are the only films of consequence he’s ever made.

7. yinn - July 8, 2006

Here is IMO the best link for WWI info. It will throw a shadow on your day, I tell you.

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