The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered

Published: December 13th, 2016     
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Author: Petter Liddle
Reviewed by: Jarrod Booth - IPMS# 44739
ISBN #: 9781783400515
Other Publication Information: Hardback / 224 pages, also available in PDF and E-pub format
Price: $39.95
Product provided by: Casemate Publishing

"The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered" is a revision of a book written twenty four years ago by Peter Liddle, which benefits from more recently acquired research and information. It is a high quality, hard cover book. Peter Liddle is an historian of the First and Second World Wars, who has concentrated on personal experience of the men and women who took part in these conflicts.

The book was of great interest to me, as my grandfather fought in the "Great War", and indeed was involved in trench fighting on the Somme. He was a very proper, jolly English gentleman, and held the rank of Sergeant. After the war, he emigrated to Australia. He had a fabulous life, and passed away at the age of 92.

Regrettably, we don't have a lot of information about his WW1 experiences. We do know that he was very lucky on several occasions. His first escape was when a German bomb exploded in his trench and buried him for 36 hours. He was lucky to be dug out. At a later date, he and a mate were sitting on a crate. They swapped spots so he could get to his cigarettes, bent down to light a cigarette, and his friend Frank received a stray bullet through his head. Such was their close friendship that he adopted Frank as his name from then on, right through his life. "Poppa" also had shrapnel injuries to both of his lower legs. He recovered and continued fighting until the end of the war, participating in the Ypres and Passchendaele Battles during 1917.

In this new book, Peter Liddle covers the planning of the battle before taking the reader through an outline of what occurred on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle. Followed by accounts of the four and a half months of fighting.

The first rather lengthy chapter revolves around the lead up to the war and battle, focusing on the individual pride and patriotism to King and Country, and the desire to serve and protect one's country. It includes similar examples from those who served from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Critical reference, and several other authors are noted regarding differences of opinion on the subject from the turn of the Century thinking to that of today.

He cites the American Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the North, beating the southern Confederate States in an "attritional wearing out of the enemy", as a similarity to the way Haig commanded the Allied efforts on the Western Front. The author describes Haig as "the practitioner of an updated version of Grant's philosophy" - for which the Battle of the Somme was the crucible.

Following the introduction, are six chapters that give a good overview of the Initial Preparation and Planning; the Opening Day - 1 July; A New Major Effort and a New Weapon; Slough of Despond and the author's Verdict. Each chapter is compact enough to keep the reader interested in each stage of the battle, but includes concise detail and information that leaves a clear perspective and understanding of the content. You are left with no doubt as to the extent of the hardships encountered, the terror, bravery, pride and "mateship" that was experienced in each unit or battalion. And of the appalling loss and waste in terms of men and machine attrition. The last chapter contains useful information and references like personal experience documentation, bibliography, notes, army, corps and divisional units involved and the order of battle.

Throughout the book, Liddle draws the reader in with written diary accounts from a number of individuals who experienced the battle from different perspectives. These include several soldiers of different rank and specialties, a Royal Flying Corp pilot, a doctor and a nurse. These add a personal touch, and leads one to reflect more deeply on what these people actually suffered through! Following each quote or diary exerts, are reference numbers with a list at the back showing information on where, or from whom it came.

In some of the quotes and stories, it is very clear to see the vast divide of socio-economic status, conduct and attitudes from the lowest infantry ranks, up to the staff officers and the "commander in chief" of the BEF, General Sir Douglas Haig. An understanding of the upper class demographic of that time is quite well explained, as were the ideals they held in conducting the war, and hopes for a successful outcome.

All photographs, maps and drawings are clearly depicted, and show dramatically the environment and conditions in which this battle was fought, as well as trench and terrain topographical map layouts. Some photos of key people referred to throughout the book are also shown.

"The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered" is a great read, and very appropriate in its 100 year anniversary. The content is a compact overview of all aspects of the battle, yet detailed with a personal touch. I was left with an appreciation of what occurred in that four and a half month period of the First World War. To say I was left with an "understanding" of this, or any war would be a lie! I don't believe any civilian, who has not been caught up in a war zone, could possibly claim to "understand" what it is like. Some opinions may differ. It would seem appropriate to celebrate all those who honor us all by serving their country.

I would very much like to thank to Casemate, and the folks at IPMS for the opportunity to review this fascinating book.

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