This book covers a wider time span than most books on the Somme. Chapter 1 looks at the British arrival of the Somme late in 1915, when British troops replaced the French on the line north of the River Somme. Chapter 2 covers the period when the British were getting to know the area, and the preparations for the great battle. In these chapters the photos show an area relatively untouched by warfare.
The next five chapters cover the battle itself. Chapter 3 looks at the disastrous first day of the battle, and the sense of shock that it caused amongst troops who had been at least partly expecting a success. Chapter 4 covers the aftermath of the disaster, and the recovery. Chapter 5 looks at the smaller scale attacks that made up most of the rest of the battle. Chapter 6 focuses on the successful attack on Thiepval Ridge, and begins with lengthy extracts from the diary of a German officer who was posted on the ridge during the pre-attack bombardment. Chapter 7 covers the final part of the battle, when rain began to turn the battlefield into the familiar muddy wasteland.
Chapter 8 looks at the period between the end of the battle and the unexpected German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and ends with the British advancing across the area between the old and new lines.
The vast majority of the text comes from soldier's diaries and letters written at the time, swapping quite rapidly between different authors. There are brief explanations of events between some of these extracts, but these are generally quite short - one paragraph every other page. Although we move between writers fairly rapidly, the extracts are well chosen and fit together well to tell the story of the battle.
The text is matched up with an impressive selection of private photographs taken by the soldiers (despite the official ban on private cameras). These photographs give a rather different view of the war to the more familiar official photos.
This is an excellent addition to the very extensive literature on the Somme, and the approach taken is a very effective way to give us the soldier's eye view of the British army's time on the Somme.
1 - Live and Let Live
2 - Bedding-In
3 - Awed and Shocked
4 - Batter and Hold
5 - Toil and Strife
6 - Nut Cracking
7 - Mud and Guts
8 - Fighting Cold
Author: Richard van Emden
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military