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The Somme: Heroism And Horror In The First World War

3115 words - 12 pages

The battle of the Somme was one of the most tragic battles fought during World War I. The amount of life lost on both sides was tremendous and historians everywhere agree that this battle was one of the bloodiest battles fought. With casualties upwards of a million, it is not surprising that the Somme is often referred to as the ‘bloodbath’. Historian Martin Gilbert explores the severity of the battle in his book; The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War. In his book he attempts to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought and fell in the battle. To do this he uses excerpts from diary entries, letters and poetry written by the soldiers on the front lines to give the reader a first-hand account of what the soldiers were thinking and feeling while fighting. Gilbert is able to effectively portray the horror of the Somme and reduce the anonymity of the fallen by sharing stories from the soldier’s personal writings, however his book would have been more effective if he had a clear well-structured argument.
At the start of his book, Gilbert explains how: “every book on the Somme contributes in its own way to perpetuating the memory of those who fought and those who fell. This book seeks to make its contribution to that act of remembrance” (Gilbert, xxi). To be able to do this he begins to explain what is going on during the time before the battle took place. He gives some background on the size of the British army at the start of the war in 1914 and discusses who was eligible to fight and the formation of the battalions. An example of how battalions were started was when General Sir Henry Rawlinson “suggested that men would be more willing to enlist if they knew they would serve with those whom they knew: friends, neighbours, and workmates. Rawlinson asked a business acquaintance…to raise a battalion of men who worked in the City of London” (Gilbert, 3). Gilbert lists other examples of how other battalions were formed and who comprised of them, some were sport related, others were a collective of farmers and some were groups of men who grew up together, a variety of men signed up. After he discussed the formation of battalions and the efforts made by individuals to get men to sign up, Gilbert jumps ahead to 1916 and uses entries from Sir Douglas Haig’s diary to illustrate the challenges Haig faced when proposing the need for an offensive on the Somme. He discusses how Haig needed to convince the War Committee that fighting on the Somme was essential for victory in the war and if successful it could mean an early end to the war. From this point on, Gilbert tells the story of the Somme through the accounts of General Haig, the soldiers who fought in it and statistics gathered from the official historians of the Somme.
The first offensive and a major point of focus in Gilbert’s book was on July 1st/1916. This was the day that the ‘Big Push’ took place on. During the entire five and a half month battle, July 1st saw the most loss of life. As...

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