|Poppies, near Mametz|
On the 7th of July the 38th (Welsh) Division were tasked
with taking Mametz Wood. This involved walking down the open hillside past
where their memorial now stands and up the hill on the far side. The wood, then
more a collection of tree stumps, sheltered a well dug-in enemy with a superb
view of the battlefield. Unsurprisingly the attack failed.
Field Marshall Douglas Haig blamed the Welsh Division for their ‘lack of push’. There had been some poor leadership, but the main reason for their failure is that too many of the soldiers were just too dead to reach the wood, never mind take it. He sacked the C.O. and passed the division to Major-General Herbert Watts with the instruction to ‘use it as he saw fit.’ He used them to take the wood 'at any cost' which they did between the 10th and 12th of July. Some battalions had 70% casualty rates and the division lost 4,000 men, effectively destroying it.
|The Welsh Division Memorial, the Red Dragon tearing at the barbed wire.|
The memorial was only erected in 1987 at the request of survivors, who felt they had been shabbily treated,
But it did not stop there. By the time the battle ended in November 1916 the French and British had advanced less than 10km and 1.3 million men (800,000 British*, 250,000 French, 250,000 German) had been killed or injured. Douglas Haig liked to think of himself as the ‘Master of the Field’, others called him the ‘Butcher of the Somme.’
By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
|William Noel Hodgson in 1915|
Langfier Studio, borrowed from Wikipedia
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, O Lord.
By all of all man's hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
|Stump Road Cemetery, near Grandcourt, Somme|
|Thiepval Ridge from the tank memorial at Pozières|
The Somme was the first battle in which tanks were used. They struggled on the muddy, shell cratered ground and were not the game changers that had been hoped.
Thiepval was chosen as the site of the Anglo-French memorial to the fallen. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (also responsible for the Cenotaph and New Delhi) it was unveiled in 1932. Around it cluster the graves of men who are, in the British phrase 'soldiers of the Great War, known unto God' or in the more uncompromising (and, perhaps, honest) French phrase 'Inconnu'.
* 'British' in this context refers to the 'British Empire'. The casualty list included Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Newfoundlanders (Newfoundland had not then joined Canada), Bermudans, Indians, South African and Rhodesians. (and Wikipedia's list may not be exhaustive).