The first day of the Somme was the most costly single day in British military history, and the image of thousands of men being cut down by enemy fire as they attempted to cross no-mans-land has become one of the defining images of the First World War. Each of the British battalions involved in the fight produced a war diary in which they recorded the events of each day. This book brings together all of those war diaries for 1 July 1916, creating a complete picture of how the battalions on the front line thought the day had gone. The book covers the main battle itself and the diversionary attack at Gommecourt.
This isn't really a book that is designed to be read through in a single go. This is partly because neighbouring battalions tended to have similar experiences, so there is quite a bit of repetition, but also because the massive scale of the project means it all becomes a bit overwhelming if you do. Instead it is best seen as an utterly invaluable reference guide, to be used to research the actions of an individual battalion, division or corps, or a particular part of the battle. Having said that, reading a large series of the diaries in sequence does give you a very good feel for the way in which the events of the day differed on different parts of the front. The book moves from north to south, so we meet the least successful parts of the attack first, and end on the border with the French, where XIII Corps captured most of its first objectives and one division achieved all of its objectives for the day.
This is a very impressive piece of work, and an invaluable reference work for anyone interested in the battle of the Somme.
Author: Martin Mace and John Grehan
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military