A Bold New History of the Battle of the Somme
British generals have long been seen as the bunglers of the deadly conflict, but a revisionist look argues that a U.S. general was the real donkey
By Andrew Roberts; Photographs by Simon Norfolk
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“On July 1st the weather, after an early mist, was of the kind commonly called heavenly,” the poet and author Siegfried Sassoon recalled of that Saturday morning in northeastern France. This second lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and his brother officers breakfasted at 6 a.m., “unwashed and apprehensive,” using an empty ammunition box for a table. At 6:45 the British began their final bombardment. “For more than forty minutes the air vibrated and the earth rocked and shuddered,” he wrote. “Through the sustained uproar the tap and rattle of machine guns could be identified; but except for the whistle of bullets no retaliation came our way until a few 5.9[-inch] shells shook the roof of our dugout.” He sat “deafened and stupefied by the seismic state of affairs,” and when a friend of his tried to light a cigarette, “the match flame staggered crazily.”
And at 7:30, some 120,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force rose out of their trenches and headed across no man’s land toward the German lines.
A fascinating look at the story from another point of view. The Smithsonian remains one of England’s greatest gifts to the colonies.