There will be many new books this year, covering the second Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you can only afford to buy one, make this the book you buy. Highly Recommended.
NAME: The Somme, The Epic Battle in the Soldiers’ own Words and Photographs
AUTHOR: Richard van Emden
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: World War One, First World War, WWI, The Great War, 1916, 1914-1918, The Somme, Second Battle of the Somme, November 1916, Picardi, Red Poppy
DESCRIPTION: There will be many new books this year, covering the second Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you can only afford to buy one, make this the book you buy. Highly Recommended.
For those coming to the history of WWI, the most confusing aspect is probably the number of battles of the same name. After the initial war of movement was halted by the BEF, and the Anglo French counter-attack executed, the Western Front settled down to a static war of attrition with two opposing trench lines stretching from the Swiss border to the English Channel. This meant that the two protagonists attempted one assault after another with very little to show, beyond a mounting pile of dead and mass of wounded. The result was that particular locations saw two or more major battles as each side tried to exploit what was seen as relative weakness at each location.
The second Battle of the Somme was one of the most horrific battles, with the Allies seeing more than 650,000 casualties and the Germans suffering a similar loss. Even though the casualty rate was terrible, it did not slow the eagerness of both sides to try again somewhere along the trench lines, until the tank and the fresh canon fodder from the US began to break the German line. However, The Somme still sticks firmly in memory and is frequently cited as THE example of the futility of war. This is perhaps inaccurate because, once the trench lines had become established, both sides had to learn the hard way and search for an enemy weakness. It was certainly terrible warfare, but it did lead eventually to Allied victory that was to be squandered by not negotiating a more equitable peace after the armistice had been agreed.
The author has made an extensive study of his subject and interviewed a large number of survivors before the last passed on into history. He has collected together a very fine selection of photographs and the combination with readable and effective text has produced an outstanding book that will satisfy novice and enthusiast equally.
Pictures and text provide an evocative and moving picture of one of the bloodiest and drawn-out battles in history. The courage and determination of the soldiers on both sides, and their similar equipment, was what made this battle so costly. The Somme had been occupied for almost twelve months ahead of the battle and the author has provided a convincing account of the full period.
The war photographer had really become part of the story during the American Civil War, but the Great War was to see film becoming common not only from professional photographers, but from the soldiers fighting the battle. The mass of photograph record has still not been fully reviewed in the hundred years following the war and it may be many years before every image and length of movie film has been viewed, recorded and become an essential element of the record. This book has reproduced images through the body of the book and the quality is variable. Some images are beautifully lit and composed, being printed flawlessly. At the other end of the selection, there are images that include many defects but, even if it had been technically practical to enhance them, the defects provide an authenticity that complements to story.
The challenge for the book reviewer of centenary publications is that books generally appear over a two or three year period as publishers struggle to hit the specific anniversary window. This means that there may yet be a new book that will equal this one or edge it down the list. However, it will have to be a pretty remarkable book to equal this copy and it is very unlikely that there will be another book that balances images and text so effectively.