World War I Somme bloodbath, 100 years ago


This video says about itself:

The Great War: The Somme (WWI Documentary)

22 April 2015

BATTLEFIELD DETECTIVES: WORLD WAR ONE – THE SOMME

In just one day almost 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded. Why was this first day on the Somme such a disaster for the British? World War I, trenches and barbed wire ran across the entire continent of Europe from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

At 7:30am on July 1st, 1916, after a devastating artillery bombardment lasting more than a week, 100,000 British soldiers waited in their trenches ready to advance on the German lines. They’d been told to expect minimal resistance, but as they picked their way slowly across no-man’s-land, guns opened fire. Shells burst overhead, and waves of men were machine-gunned down.

It was a military catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Filmed on the battlefield itself, in laboratories and on firing ranges – archaeologists, military historians, and other experts from disciplines as diverse as metallurgy and geology investigate the factors and conduct tests to replicate and understand the factors that turned one terrible day into the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

When lions were led to slaughter by donkeys

Friday 1st July 2016

One and a half million causalities in a single battle or the death of one single man – both underline the futility of war, says PETER FROST

The battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of WWI, indeed perhaps the bloodiest conventional battle in all human history. One and a half million participants were killed or injured in this single engagement.

The British suffered 419,654 casualties, the French 204,253 and the Germans 465,000, Canada 24,029 casualties, Australia 23,000, New Zealand 7,408 and Ireland 25,000.

One young German soldier suffered a wounded leg during the battle. His name was Adolf Hitler.

The Somme was one of the first battles in military history to include air warfare. The British Royal Flying Corps had 185 planes which, along with their artillery-spotting observation balloons, gave them air superiority. The Germans had only 129 aircraft.

This battle also saw the first use of tanks. Untried and unreliable, of the 40 used most could not even drag themselves to the front line. Another British tactic was to use miners to tunnel under the German entrenchments to plant explosives.

The battle started at 7.30am on July 1 1916 when the British detonated 40,000lbs of explosives under the German positions before the British infantry advanced across no-man’s land facing heavy artillery and murderous machine gun fire.

It was soon apparent that the British artillery bombardment had been largely ineffective — advancing troops suffered tremendous losses and the few that reached the German line were easily cut down.

Poor communications and arrogance from the officers led the British command to mistakenly assume the assault was working and send forward reinforcements. These too were cut down in huge numbers.

The first day ended in disaster — 19,240 British dead and 35,493 wounded, 21,152 missing and 585 taken prisoner, resulting in a total loss of 57,470 troops. The French and Germans suffered only 7,000 casualties each.

Eventually realising the heavy losses, British command largely suspended the offensive for a time but then the battle and the slaughter went on for many months.

All through the summer and autumn there was little advance by either side. As winter set in, prospects of a breakthrough became less and less likely. On November 13 British Somme commander Douglas Haig ordered an attack north of Thiepval to save face and it looked as if his strategy was succeeding.

By late November the battle of the Somme was over. Five long months of fighting had seen minimal gains but very heavy casualties. The French had captured perhaps five miles of German territory, the British only two miles.

Today we know that the battle was a disaster. It was the classic example of lions led by donkeys when brave men who died for their country were led by a remote, ignorant and uncaring officer class who believed they had the divine right to rule.

Perhaps we should give the final word to a German officer Friedrich Steinbrecher. “Somme,” he said, “the whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.”

A composer struck down in his prime

George Butterworth is my favourite English composer. His pastoral works speak of England and its countryside in a the same way as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Gustav Holst and is often based on old folk songs collected in the halcyon days before WWI.

Yet no other composer’s reputation is built on so few works. His Banks of Green Willow and Two English Idylls are among the finest in English music and his wonderful settings of Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad are among only a score or two of his works that remain.

Houseman’s line “Lads that will die in their glory and never grow old” would prove sadly prophetic in Butterworth’s own life.

Just before he left for the trenches of France, Butterworth went through all of his compositions and destroyed much of his music scores believing he could and would write much better when he returned from the war. It was not to be.

Born in Paddington in 1885 Butterworth became not just a composer but also a collector of folk songs, a Morris dancer and, of course, a cricketer.

He grew up in Yorkshire where he showed an early aptitude for the piano. At school he excelled more in sports and music than in academic subjects and in 1904 went to Trinity College Oxford to read Greats — classics, ancient history and philosophy. But even here music overshadowed his academic application.

In 1906, Butterworth became interested in traditional folk song and dance, part of a popular revival that was developing a distinctly English musical style.

Along with friends Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams he started collecting folk music.

In Sussex in 1907 he found local folk songs which he would use in his two English Idylls.

All in all, Butterworth collected around 450 songs and dance tunes and published several books of country and Morris dances, joined the Folk Song Society and was one of the founders of the English Folk Dance Society in 1911 dancing in its original Morris side.

In 1910, he enrolled at the Royal College of Music where he studied organ, piano, composition and harmony, but he was soon disillusioned and left a year later. Most of Butterworth’s compositions date from 1910-14.

In 1911 he wrote his rhapsody A Shropshire Lad which quotes from his earlier settings of Houseman’s poems and is widely recognised as his finest work. Although inspired by the folk tradition, it is entirely original.

The music is pastoral in nature, poignant and expressive. It hints at what might have been.

Butterworth’s final completed work for orchestra is the Banks of Green Willow, a third English Idyll which was written in 1913 as war clouds gathered.

In those final months before the war Butterworth provided both moral and practical support in the composition and performance of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony. When Vaughan Williams revised the work in 1920 he was to dedicate it to Butterworth’s memory.

When WWI broke out in August 1914, Butterworth enlisted as a private soldier.

By October he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 13th Durham Light Infantry, leading Durham miners with whom he developed a real bond.

Early in the morning of August 5 at Pozieres Butterworth was shot in the head and killed.

He would be awarded his second Military Cross for his heroism that night. Butterworth has no known grave.

If you seek a memorial to him, and the many other victims of the battle of the Somme, just listen to his music.

This music video is called George Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Conflicting imperialist ambitions root cause of the war

1 July 2016

John Ellison puts the Somme battle disaster in a wider context of organised civil opposition to WWI carnage

July 1, 1916. The first day of senseless slaughter in the Western Front battle of the Somme, launched by a long-planned British advance. No-one could say there had been no military preparation. The German lines had been pounded with artillery shells for five days before British troops went over the top to their deaths.

“But at that terrible moment,” wrote Adam Hochschild in his 2011 To End All Wars: “The multiple belts of barbed wire in front of the German trenches and the well-fortified machine-gun emplacements dotted among them were largely intact.

The bombardment, it turned out, had been impressive mainly for its tremendous noise.”

Commander-in-chief and friend of King George, Sir Douglas Haig, was not a man given to rationally required changes of plan, let alone to anguished self-doubt, or even self-doubt without anguish.

So the British death tally mounted astronomically, as the offensive continued, throughout July and into August, September, October.

When the battle began on July 1, this “war to end all wars” had been raging for 23 months and British, French and German soldiers had died in vast numbers during relatively passive confrontation along the long, wavy line of the Western Front and during major set-piece battles over which time the front shifted only very slightly.

British casualty milestones speak for themselves. By the end of 1914 the total figure of dead and wounded reached 90,000.

On September 25 1915 the British attacked near the village of Loos employing poison gas — chlorine —- for the first time, as the Germans had done several months before, at Ypres. Wind conditions, however, caused the attackers to suffer more from its use than the Germans.

Next day British infantry walking directly towards enemy machine guns incurred huge losses. Four-fifths of the 10,000 who advanced were either killed, wounded or missing but this fact did not pause the battle. A few weeks more, a mile or two of ground had been gained and British casualty numbers exceeded 61,000.

In Britain in spring 1916, with many volunteers now dead and volunteering slowed, conscription was introduced, first for single men, then for married men.

On July 2, the second day of the Somme battle, Haig was given a gross underestimate of casualties so far — over 40,000.

Satisfied with progress, he wrote in his diary: “This cannot be considered severe, in view of the numbers engaged and the length of front attacked.”

In fact — horrifically to almost anyone but Haig, then or since — on July 1 almost half of the attacking force of 120,000 men were killed or wounded.

By the end of October British deaths alone exceeded 95,000 and the fighting continued for more than another fortnight.

“The allies had gained,” wrote Hochschild, “roughly seven square miles of ground.”

Casualties in French forces, which had earlier in 1916 withstood the Verdun German offensive, were also vast, as were those of Germany — where anti-war socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg both spent time in prison that year.

“Strategically,” historian AJP Taylor declared in his book on World War I more than 50 years ago: “the battle of the Somme was an unredeemed defeat … Idealism perished … The enthusiastic volunteers were enthusiastic no longer. They had lost faith in their cause, in their leaders, in everything except loyalty to their fighting comrades. The war … went on for its own sake…”

In harmony Hochschild described the Somme battle as a turning point. He wrote: “It was not a turn towards rebellion but towards a kind of dogged cynicism, a disbelief that any battle could make a difference.”

But whatever the beliefs about the war’s justifications among fighting men on all sides, it is demonstrable that this war, as great labour historian Eric Hosbawm considered in his 1994 Age Of Extremes: “Was waged for unlimited ends,” unlike earlier wars usually waged for “limited and specifiable objects.”

He developed the point. In the Age Of Empire, he wrote: “Politics and economics had fused…for the two main contestants, Germany and Britain, the sky had to be the limit, since Germany wanted a global political and maritime position like that now occupied by Britain, and which therefore would automatically relegate an already declining Britain to inferior status.”

The argument that conflicting imperialist ambitions were the root cause of the war had not, however, yet filtered through to most people in Britain. Yet the small socialist, radical and religious anti-war army in Britain was not insignificant and the imposition of conscription offered a fresh focus for activity.

The No Conscription Fellowship supported conscription refusers, produced a regular bulletin, distributed more than a million leaflets — at the cost of arrests and imprisonments — and held meetings. Its national convention was held in April 1916 in an old Quaker Hall in Bishopsgate, attended by some 2,000 people, besieged by a crowd of “patriots” outside.

During the same month Suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst organised and spoke in the face of “patriot” aggression at an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square.

While some conscientious objectors, whether motivated by religious or other reasons, accepted non-combatant alternative service if offered it, many were in prison, 34 were in army custody, treated as soldiers while refusing military service, and received death sentences in France.

As a result, however, of a visit to prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith by (plus others) philosopher and anti-conscription campaigner Bertrand Russell, the order went to Haig that no conscientious objector should be shot. The death sentences were commuted, and the COs were returned to Britain by the end of June to serve long prison sentences.

An influential organisation which queried the war’s continuance was the Union of Democratic Control, led by radical Edmund Dene Morel, whose 1916 book The Truth About The War exposed official claims. Responsibility for the war, he insisted, was “distributed.”

The Independent Labour Party’s weekly Labour Leader was edited by anti-war socialist Fenner Brockway, while the previously divided small British Socialist Party now expressed a firmly anti-war and anti-imperialist position through its paper The Call.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s east London-based organisation and the Glasgow-based Socialist Labour Party shared that outlook. The newspapers of these small parties were always at risk from police raids.

Britain had declared war, so the official line went, to save “little Belgium,” whose independence was sacrificed by Germany’s unquestioned initial aggression through invasion on August 3 1914.

But Britain had no record of protecting the independence of other countries. On the contrary, it had robbed independence from many, including India, whose troops were fighting and dying for Britain’s empire.

Britain was still refusing independence to its oldest colony, Ireland, where the Easter Rising had lately been suppressed with leaders executed.

Britain’s motive in this war was to maintain its dominant world position and it was therefore willing to agree with allies that they have slices of territory outside its own empire. But these deals were secret, first publicised by the Bolsheviks from tsarist archives after the 1917 November revolution.

Thus a treaty of April 1915 granted Italy (in exchange for joining the war) lands in Austrian and Turkish control and even, if France and Britain extended their colonial empire in Africa at Germany’s expense, some African territory too.

A year later it was agreed with Russia that France was to have territory ruled by Turkey, while Britain was to have much of Iraq and more.

“MP for humanity” James Keir Hardie had been at the forefront of socialist demands at the war’s outset that Britain keep out, but died in September 1915. John Maclean, in Scotland, had been similarly at the forefront of the movement opposed to the war and was now in prison. Fenner Brockway, imprisoned briefly in the summer of 1916, would soon be in jail for much longer.

In 1917, the war would begin to unravel. Meanwhile, the words on the front page of the Labour Leader, on August 6 1914, continued to have great relevance: “Down with the War! WORKERS of Great Britain, you have no quarrel with the workers of Europe. They have no quarrel with you. The quarrel is between the RULING classes of Europe.”

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19 thoughts on “World War I Somme bloodbath, 100 years ago

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  9. Monday 29th May 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    The Welsh at Passchendaele: 1917

    by Jonathan Hicks

    (Y Lolfa £14.99)

    AS I read Jonathan Hicks’s meticulously researched book about the hell that was the battle for Passchendaele Ridge in 1917, I recalled Douglas Newton’s description of WWI in The Darkest Days as “a filthy, disgusting and hideous episode of industrialised killing … unredeemed by victory.”

    He concluded that Britain had been stampeded into war by a small group within the Cabinet — namely Prime Minister Asquith, Winston Churchill and Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey.

    Hicks’s book, through the words of soldiers, airmen, members of the field ambulance brigades and from letters, newspapers, tributes and citations for medals, tells in horrific detail what it was like to be in a war in the most atrocious conditions.

    There are countless stories of incredible bravery, of selfless devotion to duty and to fellow combatants and many references to people from places familiar to me who were killed in action or who displayed acts of unimaginable courage.

    At Pilkem Ridge on July 31, 1917, Wales’s best-known soldier-poet Ellis H Evans — better known as Hedd Wyn — of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was killed. A few weeks earlier, he had posted his entry for the Chair competition of the Welsh National Eisteddfod, held that year at Birkenhead.

    It proved to be the winning entry and, when his nomde-plume was called, no-one stood before someone revealed he had been killed in action. The Chair was draped in black and ever since has been known as “The Black Chair of Birkenhead.”

    On the same date in July, Pontypridd-born Penrhiwceibr collier Sergeant Robert Bye — whose youngest daughter I met two years ago — won the VC, the first awarded to a member of the newly formed Welsh Guards regiment.

    With his group pinned down by heavy fire, he crawled from shell hole to shell hole, lobbing Mills bombs into German blockhouses. Single-handed, that morning, he accounted for 70 Germans, killed, wounded or captured.

    There are two lasting impressions from the book’s immense detail. The first is of the awful quagmire of that battlefield, with “decomposing bodies built into the walls of trenches, constant enemy shelling, food sodden with muddy water, sniping, a waterlogged country of shellcraters . . . and death from exposure.”

    The other is of the many brilliant and idealistic young men who sacrificed everything in a cause in which they believed.

    There are examples given of newspaper reports of the battles — the gung-ho honour and glory, of men cool and fearless under assault and there is also material from German sources.

    But this is a book about the reality of conflict, the human loss, the suffering and all that is wasteful in war. Churchill, Asquith and Grey have a lot to answer for.

    Gwyn Griffiths

    http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-c680-Stark-reminder-of-industrialised-killing-in-WWI#.WSx7SNykIdU

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