Tag Archive | World War I

Remembering the Somme 100 Years On

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Battle of the Somme

World War I veteran memories reveal the horror and humanity, and lessons that need relearned, however painful

Forty years ago, author Martin Middlebrook collected eye-witness accounts for his seminal work on the most horrific battle known in human history. But most of them remained hidden until only a few months ago, when they were turned over the Imperial War Museum, in London.

Many of them have now been made available to the public.

Please check out these podcasts and interesting short articles at the museum’s website.

And this article about them at the BBC’s website.

The battle began on July 1, 1916, when over 58,000 British soldiers were lost, with a third of them killed outright. Compare that to the American loses on D-Day (4,697,) at Gettysburg (23,049 over three days) and it will help put things into perspective.

The Somme lasted nearly five months, resulting in over 1 million causalities.

At a time when a new and popular video game, Battlefield 1, is focusing on the combat that took place during the First World War, it is sobering to learn of the real life experiences of actual veterans, many of whom could not bring themselves to speak of their combat experiences until near the end of their lives.

But it is even more important that such stark reality be exhibited before the minds of anyone advocating the use of military force and sending the young men and women of today into harm’s way in the name of  “our national interests” or “national defense.”

somme-satellite-map

source: 4D Somme

The Deadly Zone Rouge of France – Monday Map

Some 100 square kilometers of France is completely closed to people. It is known as Zone Rouge – the Red Zone.

The land there is utterly poisoned by the human folly that was World War I. To this day it remains unfit and unsafe to tread upon, 100 years later.

Zone Rouge - France's Deadly Red Zone

Surrounded by many more kilometers that have been slowly and imperfectly reclaimed, most people are unaware this caged landscape exists among the otherwise beautiful French countryside, near the border with Belgium.

There the Red Baron fought and fell, along with countless others of less-lofty reputations. And there, two place names became synonymous with human suffering on an obscene scale, because of the atrocious loss of life that took place there – Verdun and the River Somme.

As revealed in eye-opening detail at a blog dedicated to all sort of curiosities, the Zone Rouge is freakishly other-wordily, as the residents living near by continue to harvest a ghastly collection of munitions and human remains.

“… the forsaken territory, originally covering more than 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq miles) in the years following the Great War. Today, around 100km2 (roughly the size of Paris), is still strictly prohibited by law from public entry and agricultural use because of an impossible amount of human remains and unexploded chemical munitions yet to be recovered from the battlefields of both world wars…”

The essay is supplemented with many photos from one Olivier Saint Hilaire, which are indeed evocative. With more found via the link to his personal website.

This representational map of the Somme campaign makes up the Red Zone area between the towns of Cambrai, Arras, and Amiens.

The Somme 1916

The Lost Generation

One hundred years ago, one of the most cataclysmic battles in human history was raging in northern France.

The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916. Fifty-three years earlier, on July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg commenced in Pennsylvania.

Over three days of fighting at Gettysburg, a total of 51,112 Americans on both sides were lost as casualties during the entire battle, with some 7,000 killed outright. It remains the bloodiest, most lethal three days in American history.

During the first day’s fighting at the River Somme, the British Army alone lost over 57,000 men, with 20,000 dying on the field.

FIFTY-SEVEN THOUSAND.

The battle lasted four months. The combined losses of the Franco-British and Imperial German armies were over 1.5 million men.

ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN.

On Thursday last, I watched the semifinal football match of the European championships, between France and Germany. These young men, almost all of them in their 20s and among the finest physical specimens their nations could produce, were giving everything they could to prove victorious for the expectant countries and their own personal glory. And throughout the relatively civil competition, I was haunted by the fact that these same champion athletes would almost certainly have been wearing the uniform of opposing armies locked in deadly strife, had they been born 100 years earlier.

They would have undergone a very different kind of training and physical conditioning to hone their elite skills for the purpose of killing their fellow Europeans, in a war between states whose rulers were, in some cases, cousins.

cousins

For me, the obscene absurdity of the so-called Great War isn’t found in the fact closely-related cousins could inflict such horrors upon their own closely-related European peoples. But rather, that the people of Europe could have done it all over again less than 30 years later – with far worse destruction of treasure and human lives.

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, it is important to remember that the peace that has existed there is not to be taken for granted. Rather, it has required an enormous change of attitudes in nationalism, jingoism, and xenophobia, and continual efforts since the end the Second World War to prevent backsliding.

May the centennial of the Somme and other atrocious acts of war in the coming months and years help to educate and supplicate the current tensions rippling across Europe and its neighbors.