The Somme Battle continues to throw a long lingering shadow over the nation’s collective consciousness, for it is during this epic clash that Britain’s volunteer soldiers, Kitchener’s celebrated New Army, having been born out of public patriotism, came of age: in time no city, town or village would escape the terrible repercussions of an offensive hitherto unparalleled in British history for its longevity and ferocity.
The four-and-a- half- month struggle, fought from July to mid-November 1916 on the gently rolling slopes of Picardy, cost Britain and her allies 650,000 casualties, a sickening figure that had profound implications for morale at home.
It is one hundred years since the Battle began: the last veteran died a decade ago and even civilian recollections have almost passed into history. Nevertheless, the Battle’s influence is real enough to reduce many people to tears by its stories of courage, fortitude and sacrifice.
Yet the Battle is only part of the legacy. The British occupied the Somme for nearly a year before the offensive began, and for four months after it officially ceased. In this unique book, one of the nation’s leading historians, Richard van Emden, tells the wider, twenty-month-long story, utilising an unparalleled collection of soldiers’ recollections and nearly 170 photographs taken by the men themselves on their own illegally held cameras. The vast majority of these images have never been published before, giving a unique perspective on the battle as seen by the participants themselves.