Today sees the start of the remembrance celebrations for the Battle of the Somme, fought from July 1st to the 18th of November 1916. It was without doubt the bloodiest battle in British history, seeing at its end some 480,000 British & Commonwealth, and 250,000 French fatalities for a maximum gain of a mere six miles. The Germans suffered losses of 230,000. To give some kind of measure to these losses, the entire British and Commonwealth losses for the entirety of World War 2 was ‘only’ 383,758 fatalities.
Britain has always relied on its allies in its battles. Alongside the French, Britain had dominion troops from Ireland (then still part of Great Britain), Australia, Bermuda, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. Each contributed their men and resources to the big push.
About a decade ago, I visited Thiepval and paid my respects there to the fallen of the Somme. I was with a party of fellow gamers and we visited some of the sights, including Albert and Vimy Ridge. There are areas to this day which are still unsafe to enter, called the Zone Rouge. Crazy as it may sound, but century old ordnance can still kill today.
I have a personal connection to the Somme. I’m told my grandfather Frank Bower fought at the Somme and that he was injured in a gas attack, and returned home. He suffered from a lung ailment which dogged him for the rest if his life (he died in 1973 when I was very young). He changed his surname to Bowers - probably because it sounded similar to the German surname Bauer. There was in the Great War a very strong anti-German feeling - the same reason the house of Hanover became the house of Windsor.
We should remember the fallen and be thankful. While our world is still a violent one, there has at least been peace in Europe for over 70 years. We remember and respect the past and hopefully we can build a better future together. I for one will be remembering my grandfather. I can’t begin to imagine the horrors he saw and suffered, but he survived and went on to serve in the Home Guard in World War 2.
If you are interested in learning more about the Somme, the Royal British Legion are offering an app, free of charge, called Somme 100.