The author dedicated this book to his Father who had fought during this troublesome battle. The opening chapter in this Historical and detailed accounting begins on the first day – the reader is pushed to Map #4 which lay directly following the overall index of the book. Early one can see there is no love that is going to be shed for Field Marshall Douglas Haig; Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces. Nor was there any love for General Sir Henry Rawlinson, an assistant to FM Haig. Mr. Sebag-Montefiore takes a meticulous path across the whole of the Battlefield that lay just outside the small town of Albert and near the River Somme. In this manner, the appreciation that the reader gains are that the whole of the battlefield location (with many descriptive maps) provides a walk across the locations to which all contained “No Man’s Land”. One will therefore read many firsthand accounts of the blood shed by the “Lost Generation”; within the pages of this Historical account we find out exactly “why” these lads became the “Lost Generation” and the real sad matter here is that this was not the first battle of expended youth, and certainly to the future of the time there would be many more. There are in effect many descriptive parts that of the scenes written in letters home by low ranking Privates to Colonels while the Generals sat with push-pin maps in comfortable positions behind the scenes of the battle front. However, there were some Generals (rare) that confronted FM Haig on decisions and these were soon sacked and sent home to the UK. The author took critical exception to the process of the comfort of FM Haig while so many young to mid-range lives were expended for a plan that hadn’t been thought out nor planned more effectively. Taking a critical look at this battle and reading what planning had gone into effect one can surmise that egos were more at play than any other component. Assuming one’s enemies would capitulate or be lost to artillery is a strawman argument; though it was arguably a strong consideration of the time – plenty directly below Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig fit this description to a “T” where direct line Officers held criticisms and some attempted to push up the ladder to no avail against of plans ill conceived. We finish the first day of battle only when one reads to page 230; again, a meticulous and careful and very well thought out tribute to the British, Canadian, and Australian Forces that fought within the confines of this meat grinder. The book by Mr. Sebag-Montefiore is not for the faint of heart, descriptions of the battle, the residual effects of those that witnessed the account day after bloody day is telling – the question yet remains “why?”
The pace in this book is convenient for readers of all types. Each chapter can be completed in a day (if one so desires) and yet one can just as easily read through several chapters a day dependent on how busy one’ schedule is managed. For myself, I took one chapter a day until I reached the last 8 chapters or so – I read 2 chapters a day toward the near end and was able to maintain the focus that was required to keep the information fresh regardless of how busy my day had been. Mr. Sebag-Montefiore is that sort of author – it is apparent to me that he intended to leave a lasting impression on this masterpiece and overall work. As I sit pondering the many accounts of young troops it is rather unfortunate that the British Cabinet War Committee hadn’t pursued a tougher stance with FM Haig on the many casualties of those killed, missing, and/or maimed following the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916; the official record states that 19 November 1916 was the conclusion of this bloodletting – for many of the soldiers who would survive and the parents and relatives of the dead I doubt that 11 November 1918 would let this battle pass from memory. By the end, both sides would count between 500,000 – 750,000 lost; the shame of course is that this war was just under 2 years away from Armistice at the conclusion. Further battles were yet to arrive and at this point the Gallipoli (Dardanelles) Campaign was over before the Somme began. It is well known that until the American Forces arrived in France that the Canadian Expeditionary Forces that were for the time the highest paid soldier. What had been kept from the official records but written in “Merry Hell” is that the British had to keep the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC’s) away from Canadian Forces following a large fight among these Allied Forces. Following the Dardanelles when after Gallipoli the advanced parties of the ANZAC’s arrived to France in Bailleul. Advanced party discussions ensued and following the first day’s business the less formal but no less important discussions continued in café’s and pubs. The town was filled with hundreds of Canadians and Australians when one Australian Soldier claimed they had landed in France to clean up what the Canadians could not finish – a return negative comment was passed from a Canadian soldier replied with an equally loud insult of why the Australians could not finish the job in Gallipoli – boys will be boys, tensions were of course high and the stress level of these fighting forces were beyond any imaginable peak. As the story went – like dominoes – the fighting between Canadian and Australians crept from café to café and from pub to pub to where the British had to send in a cavalry outfit to break the fights up throughout the streets. Roughly 100 soldiers of each side ended up in field hospitals for injuries sustained and though not confirmed “officially” scuttlebutt had it that several died. From this time forward the Canadians and Australians never fought side by side; but, were separated by British Forces in between held positions as objectives could not sustain further damage among friends. Public or transparent accounts were never provided and Captain Clements of the 25th Battalion of the Nova Scotia Regiment wrote this account from a firsthand perspective. Mr. Sebag-Montefiore doesn’t go into this “away from the battle scenes” sort of excursion; he needn’t go there given the state of History he records for posterity on the Somme.
As an American, reading this account it was rather plain to see that this sort of fighting that had gone on for so long when (later) Germany and Russia ceased hostilities due to the Russian Civil War and the oust of Czar Nicolas. Those able-bodied German Forces then went to the Western Front and hence, the exhaustion of the British and French Forces could readily be understood – in steps the United States arrived to assist and this was both timely and necessary to the future of the era. It is here at this point and time that the U.S. would build a lasting friendship with the United Kingdom that still stands the test of time today; our relationship with France is a different one from the U.K.; however, none the less important. As we recall our collaborative History we also know the outcome of the Second World War and that what occurred at the Versailles Treaty in 1919 would not be repeated at the Potsdam Conference nearly 30 years later. The countless amounts of lives lost between 1914 and 1945 were devastating to the world; as a Marine I will make no apology for the creed I myself carry – but, I do expect and demand that politicians whether Liberal or Conservative answer to the people and to the service men and women and their families when “they” send the people off to fight for the policies that sovereign nations must keep; whether as individual nations or collectively through alliances – it is the “grunt” that knows the “grunt” life and no politician sitting in a comfortable office can dictate demands of society to be placed upon the service members unless they have fully understood and examined the combat effectiveness of the same. Sir Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt and Prime Minister McKenzie-King were the three that understood this best in the Western Civilized world from 1939 onward. The British War Cabinet did not keep FM Haig to the fire nor to the microscope and nor did they of General Sir Rawlinson – anti-war material published after this war would; and, it seems further works that arrived in the early 1960’s would provide a prism into the past.
The author introduces the reader to accounts of the German side in terms of stories, letters home etc. One story encapsulated that I personally found interesting was that of Lieutenant F.L. Cassel: Lieutenant Cassel was a German citizen of Jewish background – he rose through the ranks and did so against discrimination of the time from his countrymen. Lt. Cassel later survives the Holocaust of WW II and moves to England after that war. He then writes of his account as a German Soldier in WW1, Post WW1, and that of a Dachau Concentration Camp survivor – though I looked for the documents at the Imperial War Museum on-line the charge associated (or so I was to believe) was something I chose not to do. But Mr. Sebag-Montefiore provided a service in this manner to the opposing forces – what occurred to these veterans of the German nation (of the First World War) prior to and during the Second World War was a matter of pure disgrace; this accounting comes at a time when I had most recently completed the “Nuremberg Diary” by Dr. Gustav Gilbert of the U.S. Army – Psychologist to the prisoners of the Nuremberg (Major) Trials. Within the “Nuremberg Diary” Dr. Gilbert has a discussion with Hermann Goering on this particular subject – in his usual arrogant manner Herr Goering dismissed this propaganda from the “Victors.”
Maps: 21 total battlefield maps - maybe confusing to some persons not familiar with map reading but overall outstanding and how this author links the maps to each chapter of the book.
Photos: High quality resolution of persons discussed within the book and overall field conditions - adds quality value for the reader and thus makes this book a collector’s item in my opinion.
Overall - excellent detailed account for any person interested in understanding the battle and how the British and French Forces would be morally drained by the time the United States would enter the war later.
- Paperback: 656 pages
- Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (13 November 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780141043326
- ISBN-13: 978-0141043326
- ASIN: 0141043326
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.3 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)