I visited the Somme battlefields for the first time this year and used an excellent walking guide, “Walking the Somme” by Paul Reed. Reed’s book works well if you are physically standing on the ground but in terms of style and content Martin Middlebrook’s book is excellent for those who want a detailed and highly readable account of the first day of this famous battle.
The book contains much more than just a description of the first day of the battle of the Somme. A lot of detail is given to the men, their different backgrounds and the lives of the survivors after the war. It also describes the circumstances that led to the formation of Kitchener’s “New Army” and provides an excellent analysis of the events leading up to the battle.
Like so many books of this genre the story is interspersed with accounts from the people who were actually there. Middlebrook moves seamlessly from his own narrative to the stories of the individual soldiers, which gives the book a really nice flow. Also, unlike other books of this genre, the maps appear in the appropriate places and contain just the right level of detail.
This is a very well written book that depicts a day in which the British Army, including the Armies of the Commonwealth, suffered 57,470 casualties. While a lot of the content of this book is difficult to absorb simply because of the unimaginable horror of the events described, it is a must-read and will stay with you long after you have finished it.