30 June 2007

1 July 1916

Tonight, 91 years ago, 19,240 British Empire soldiers saw their last sunset, for the next day, 1 July, was the first day of the First Battle of the Somme. A further 38,230 would be wounded, many severely before the day was finished. Ulstermen, Newfoundlanders, Accrington Pals ... this was the blooding and the bloodying of Kitchener's New Army, and men and women on the Home Front, who saw newsreel footage of battle for the first time, saw a vision of Armaggedon. In the great scheme of things, the German Empire could not recover from 1st Somme, and the lessons learned by the New Army were such that it would prevail.

Hindsight and the big picture. The present and the little picture were all alive as I grew up: the large number of elderly spinsters in towns like Accrington where there were not enough men after the war for them all to marry. And every family seemed to have a photo on the mantelpiece of a proud young soldier, a young man who would be 19 for ever.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
Lawrence Binyon For the Fallen

No comments: