Battle of the Somme - Way we must remember our fallen hero's
ALMOST 20,000 British soldiers were killed after going over the top to face gunfire on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The bloody battle lasted 141 days.
The first terrified men clambered out of the trenches when the whistle blew at 7.30am on July 1 1916. This moment signalled the start of one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Over the next nearly five months, more than a million soldiers were shot, gassed or stuck down by diseases in the squalid trenches of the Somme in France.
The Royal British Legion’s Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, whose great uncle somehow survived the battle, described the horror of the carnage as well as the slime and stench of death in the trenches.
He said: “The men were ordered not to go fast but simply to walk slowly. The terrible effect of that was the guns on the German side absolutely decimated them.
“The trenches were an absolutely unimaginable experience. The young men who volunteered to go out could never have envisaged it.”
He added: “What we get from the Battle of the Somme, more than any other conflict, is the sheer horror of the First World War.”
This image is generally accepted as coming from the very first day of the battle
Royal Irish Rifles rest during the opening hours of the Battle of the Somme
“We must remember so we don’t make the mistake of so forgetting that we land ourselves in some kind of other world again.
Rt Revd McCulloch, the Legion’s head of remembrance, also stressed the heart-breaking consequences of the battle for loved ones, family and friends back home in Britain.
He finds that the reality of what happened is brought home when you think of all the relatives finding out about the deaths of those killed on the first day of battle.
He said: “It’s when in your imagination you see in local streets, the telegraph boy or whoever it was knocking on doors telling the families they have lost their son or husband.
“There is no other battle that had such an impact on families and local communities.”
Stretcher-bearer tends to an injured soldier amidst other wounded servicemen
Nearly 100 years have passed since the Battle of the Somme and the last remaing veterans from the First World War have died of old age, taking their memories with them.
But Rt Revd McCulloch said it is important to not forget their suffering and to repeat the phrase: “We will remember them.”
He said: “In doing that we need to remember that it is their sacrifice that prevented us being overtaken in this country. It’s a wake-up call to people to say that enjoying what we have now came at a huge cost.”
“We must remember so we don’t make the mistake of so forgetting that we land ourselves in some kind of other war again.”
French troops could not provide as much support as expected at the Somme after suffering heavy losses in the earlier Battle of Verdun.
The battle finally ended on November 13 2016. Despite the huge human cost, the Allies had only gained a strip of barren territory about six miles deep.
The next generation are being encouraged to remember their descendants who fought in the First World War as part of commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle.
Rt Revd McCulloch’s late great uncle Private John Kearsey suffered a painful hernia that saved his life by stopping him from going over the top during the Battle of the Somme.
After treatment and recuperation, Private Kearsey was sent back to the Somme where he was gassed, leaving his lungs permanently damaged.
Rt Revd McCulloch said: “I did meet him because I went to his 100th birthday party. It was lovely to meet him and to be able to hear just a little bit about his own experience in the Somme.”