Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Somme - a 1916 viewpoint

The centenary of the Battle of the Somme is this week.

On the first day of the battle alone 19, 240 British Soldiers alone were killed with twice the number injured
a number of vigils are being held

The British Legion has produced a Somme 100 toolkit which can be downloaded. It contains a selection of poems 

Look at the Imperial War Museum website for background histories, podcasts, images of materials (eg uniforms, artifacts) and case studies of individual

But what were contemporary accounts of the war like?
The recent British Library 20th Century Literature website has a digitised version of an editorial of Hydra, the magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital from September 1917 in which Wilfred Owen vents his anger and frustration at the content of the daily newspapers. He refers to their 'jokes' 'Punch grinning at the 'Derby blokes'.
For examples of film reels showed in the cinema see the British Pathe news selection .
This includes a section from the famous Battle of the Somme film  which is referred to as 'British tommies@ in the trenches.
 I have also tried to explore this a little by examining some contemporary newspaper coverage in the Digital archive. Links given refer to LSE subscription database.

The Times 30th June 1916.
The main mention of the battle are in the article
entitled British activity increasing - from  the special correspondent on page 8. This notes  effective attacks- deep mud and flooded trenches. It has a sub-heading heading Twelve successful raids where it states  the initiative rests almost entirely with us.
Elsewhere the newspaper has on page 5 accounts of deliveries of potatoes from Holland which would mean the retail price falling to 2.5 d per lb
The dominance of war can be seen in some of the advertising. An ad for Burberry on page 4 features an officer in a raincoat.with the slogan safeguards health and comfort by ventilating naturally ' driving back 'poisonous exhalations' . It also promises officers' complete kits in 2-4 days.

Times 1st July
Page 8 refers to a determined British bombardment and presents an eye witness account from the special correspondent which refers to  a'terrible spectacle' but focuses upon desolation of ground and buildings not people It  does not mention  numbers of casualties. Instead it focuses upon feebleness of resistance from Germany and deserters from German trenches.

 Times 3rd July
an official account mentions the battle of the some under the heading forward in the West - a great attack, 9,500 prisoners . The tone is of victory casualties are not mentioned. However, on page 9 in a longer account of the battle. There is more temperance and reference to the war not being over in a day requiring a 'long sustained and probably costly pressure'

Craiglockhart War Hospitalfrom 1st September 1917.
While being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Wilfred Owen edited six issues of the hospital’s magazine, The Hydra, - See more at: http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/wilfred-owens-draft-editorial-for-the-hydra-1-september-1917#sthash.WMEZUp3K.dpuf

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