Slaughter in the Somme

The following is multiple diary entries from an unnamed British Soldier who fought on the front lines. A member of the Accrington Pals, this soldier was among the 720 who initially marched towards the German line on July 31st.

June 30th, 1916

Dear Diary,

           The bombardment of the shells is never ending. (Giesler, Patricia, Canada and the First World War) Ear-splitting explosions can be heard as British Artillery rips apart the German defensive line. I have never seen weapons like this before. These artillery weapons are capable of decimating land miles across in seconds. (Alexander, Caroline, The Shock of War) I wonder what it must be like to be on the other side of these war machines. For seven days, it will crush the German line, and we will roll over the Huns. The Germans will already have been slaughtered by British artillery. It will be a quick and decisive victory. My regiment is eager to fight. There is an excited-nervous feeling that has fallen over all of us. Spirits are high; some of us check our supplies, while others rest, eagerly awaiting the offensive tomorrow. Not many of us have seen true combat before, but it does not matter. (Roy, B.H, Battle of the Somme) Tomorrow will be a decisive victory. At 7:30, we will rise from our trenches and march towards the German line and capture it. (Giesler, Patricia, Canada and the First World war) We will march together as one in the largest offensive in British history and crush what remains of the German defensive line. Yesterday, we were mill workers, railway men, solicitors and shopkeepers assistants. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) Tomorrow, the glorious fire of combat will refine each and every one of us, making us stronger, tougher and harder. Tomorrow, we will become warriors. Dawn cannot come fast enough.

July 1st, 1916

Dear Diary,

At 7:30 AM, the Accrington pals rose together and began to march towards the German front. (Sommerville, Donald, World War I) We were told not to run since we were not supposed to break formation. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) Everything was going well before German rifles – far too many of them, peaked over their defensive line. They began to open fire, and one by one, we began to fall. They had told us that this would be an easy fight, that we would have easily taken the German defensive positions, but this was not the case. The rate at which British men were falling confirmed it. Something had gone terribly wrong. For the first time, I was terrified. The German line was firing a barrage, and any of those shots could have hit me. I heard the rapid fire of German machines guns, capable of mowing down soldiers from what seemed like a mile away. (Alexander, Caroline, The Shock of War) After what seemed like ages, our battered regiment arrived at the trench, only to encounter heavy German resistance. The fighting inside the trench was the worst. (A History of the First World War In a Hundred Moments) Our rifles were now useless, too long and cumbersome to be of real use inside the cramped trench. The fight became a melee. I could hear panicked screams of pain and agony as soldiers around me from both sides were brutally murdered. I stared in frozen horror as I watched a wave of German reinforcements. Without looking behind me, I dropped everything and clambered out of the trench, stumbling back towards British territory. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) I did not stop until I got there. We had not ‘Rolled over the huns’. Never such innocence again. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred moments)

July 15th, 1916

I now sit at home, reflecting on the events of June 31st, 1916. After the experience, I refused to go back to combat. I was finished. Our regiment has been decimated. The Accrington Pals are no more. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) I am unable to sleep. At night, I am haunted by visions of combat. My smell and taste has been affected, and I am having trouble remembering the past. Concentration is difficult, painful headaches making it all the worse. (Alexander, Caroline, The Shock of War) They call it ‘Shell Shock’. The doctors say that this ‘Shell Shock’, is the result of artillery explosions, not that shrapnel, but rather the force of the explosion itself. It is an ailment of the brain. (Alexander, Caroline, The Shock of War)It makes sense. The powerful artillery explosions produce ear-splitting noise, like the roar of an express train, coming nearer at tremendous speed with a loud singing, almost like a wailing noise. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) The explosion causes an earth shattering crash, the force of the blast feels like getting hit all over your body. Simply put, it is horrible, and while I am grateful to be alive, this ‘Shell Shock’ is truly dreadful. While I am no longer fighting, I am not at peace.

June 31st, 1922

Dear Diary,

           It has now been six years since my ordeal in combat, and five since the Great War has ended. I realize now how foolish we must have been. Of the original 720 in our regiment, only a handful remain. (Giesler, Patricia, Canada and the First World War) We were amateurs with no experience taking on trained German troops, marching, not running, as if taking the trench was a simple task. (A History of the First World War in a Hundred Moments) We were ill prepared for what laid ahead of us. Marching forward that day was foolish, and it cost the lives of countless men. Despite this, I do believe that it has taught Britain a valuable lesson. Never again will such a gross miscalculation happen. The sacrifice at the Somme will save British lives in the future.

Sources:

Alexander, Caroline. "The Shock of War." Smithsonian. N.p., 01 Sept. 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

"A History of the First World War in 100 Moments." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Sommerville, Donald, World War I, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, n.d, Print,

Giesler, Patricia, “Canada and the first world war”, Ottawa,: Department of Veterans Affairs, 2008, Print

Roy, R.H., “Battle of the Somme”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, np, 2012,

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