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Remembering the Somme in Reading

Rachel Sherlock By Rachel Sherlock Published on July 1, 2016

The first of July sees one of the most important anniversaries in commemorating World War 1. It marks 100 years from the first day of the Battle of the Somme, recognized as one of the most devastating battles in history. It inflicted almost 1,300,000 casualties in total over its 141 days of fighting. The first day alone saw the deaths of approximately 20,000 British officers, making it the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.

This battle encapsulated the protracted slaughter which is almost synonymous with World War 1, and debate continues today over its necessity and the value of its outcome . Its impact on the consciousness of a generation, however, cannot be denied. The Battle of the Somme was an experience shared by some of the 20th century’s most notable figures. The combatants of the Somme included both Hitler and Otto Frank (father of Anne Frank) fighting for the German Forces. The Allied Forces included future British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and great number of authors, from J.R.R. Tolkien to A.A. Milne.

The anniversary of this dark hour in Europe’s history is particularly poignant in the current European climate of uncertainty and fear. Yet it is still an opportunity to learn more of the history that has shaped the world and help us to aspire to a brighter future. The following list provides a glimpse into the wealth of work which surrounds this cataclysmic battle.

Peter Hart: The Somme The Darkest Hour on the Western Front

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Peter Hart, the the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, lays out in unflinching detail, not only the horror of trench warfare, but also the great complexity of the strategies behind this battle. Hart’s work is primarily Anglo-centric, examining the motives, strategy, and failings of those involved in this monumental battle.

Siegfried Sassoon: The Complete War Poems

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The poems of Siegfried Sassoon are recognised as some of the most important representations of World War 1. As a combatant in the Battle of the Somme he refused to engage in sentimentality or misguided national pride, but rather presents the brutal horror of the trenches and contemptuously satirizes the politicians that place had him there. 

Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong

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An example of the Battle of the Somme in fiction, Faulkes’ sprawling three-generation family saga gives a visceral account of the first day of the battle. Woven into a deeply complex story of love and strife, Faulks contrasts this with the necessary emotional numbness needed to deal with the mechanised annihilation. 

By Richard Van Emden: The Somme: The British Army’s Worst Day in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs 

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In this compelling book Van Emden allows the Somme to Speak for itself through the letters and photographs that emerged from the battlefield.These resources are used to highlight not only the carnage, but also the camaraderie, as they provide a glimpse through the eyes of the combatants. 

Alistair Horne: The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916

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Although perhaps the most famous, the Somme was not a battle in isolation. This book takes examines in great detail the Battle of Verdun, a battle which echoed the Somme in its length and devastation. Horne’s book is a profoundly moving study of the minds of those who waged war on the Western Front.

Editorial content writer at Bookwitty. Lives up to her name by having a housemate called Watson, but is still working on the violin-playing and crime-solving.


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