24 Hours at the Somme by Robert Kershaw
|24 Hours at the Somme by Robert Kershaw|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: An hour-by-hour detailed guide to the first day of the Somme, as told by those on both sides.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: June 2016|
|Publisher: WH Allen|
|External links: Author's website|
They came past one by one...walking lumps of clay, with torn clothing, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes...There was a dreadful weariness, but a wildness burning in their fevered eyes, showing what this appalling hand to hand fighting had cost them. Utterly unforgivable for me...
So goes the description of the men, the ghosts, at the end of the first day of the Somme. July 1 2016 will mark 100 years since this most bloody of battles took place. It was supposed to be the optimistic 'Big Push' that would end the Great War, but by sunset of the first day the British casualties numbered 57,470. The battle would rage until November that year, with the total number of casualties on all sides exceeding one million.
24 Hours at the Somme gives an overview of the first day of the battle from a number of different viewpoints. We see what life was like for people in various positions along the command hierarchy, including those nearest the bottom. These included enthusiastic members of 'Kitchener's New Army'; enthusiastic volunteers for whom energy and camaraderie made up for their lack of skill and training. Groups of friends would form 'Pals Battalions', local men who were workmates and neighbours (even football teams), eager to serve side by side in a gang. We also see what the battle was like for the opposing side by means of interviews and quotes from those serving in the German trenches. The result is a balanced view of the battle that raises some serious thinking points and tells a very human story amidst shocking recollections of violence, gore and suffering.
The tales of individual soldiers were particularly poignant and each story brought home that fact that these men were not mere pawns on a battlefield; they were human beings with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations. One particularly memorable account was that of Lieutenant Richard Cary who sent a flurry of enthusiastic letters and postcards back to his mother, requesting, amongst other things, cakes, chocolates and his white silk pyjamas. He was especially excited about his forthcoming engagement to Doris Mummery, who, in his words, was the best little girl on earth. He died on the battlefield; his memory lovingly perpetuated by his great-great nieces.
Cinematographer Geoffrey Malins risked life and limb in order to film scenes from the battle which would later be shown in cinemas. His footage was seen by 20 million people, some of whom recognised their husbands and relatives on screen amongst the dead and wounded. Malins was later awarded an OBE in recognition for his work. It is fascinating to read his personal account of life in the trenches.
24 Hours at the Somme is a well-researched and thoughtfully written book that vividly brings the account of the battle to life and transports the reader to the filthy trenches of the Somme where waves upon waves of terrified solders anxiously awaited the order to go 'over the top.' The stories are often harrowing, shocking and heartbreaking, but they are stories that must be told in order for readers to fully comprehend the enormity of what took place. Kershaw has given a voice to those long gone so that the present generation may not forget those atrocious events of one hundred years ago.
Bookbag also enjoyed The Great War by Peter Hart, a thorough account encompassing all aspects of the Great War and how it affected the world scene and lives of ordinary people. For more about the Somme, try Somme: Into the Breach by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore.
24 Hours at the Somme by Robert Kershaw is in the Top Ten Non-Fiction Books of 2016.
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