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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 17 January 2005
I have just finished reading this fantastic book for the 2nd time and feel i must put down in words how i feel about this book.
Mr Middlebrook has put together a book that will stay pride of place on my bookshelf, the first hand accounts that he has collected and placed within this book really take you to the Somme, and interweaved with the background and build up to the first day really bring the magnitude of this disaster to the reader, you can see for yourself that the rating this book recieves does it justice.
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on 20 September 2002
As the title suggests, this book focuses almost entirely on the first day of battle(1st July 1916). Middlebrook offers a short introduction on events leading up to this fateful day, and the need for the British to relieve some of the pressure on the French army following Verdun. In order to relieve some of this pressure, the British would conduct their own offensive against the German army. This offensive would be fought in the Somme dept of Northern France, and would last from July to November 1916.
The book starts with the formation of the 'Pals Batallions'(groups of volunteers from the same town/city). These 'Pals' would go to France and fight alongside each other. It was thought the cameraderie and community would help the men during their time in a foreign land. We learn about the planning and preparation for battle, and the crucial time leading up to 'zero hour'.
An obvious comparison can be made with Malcolm Brown's book 'The Book of The Somme'. Like Brown, Middlebrook uses personal records, eyewitness accounts, diary entries and photographs to push the idea that these were not seasoned veterans going to war, but inexperienced and niave 'normal everyday people'. Henry Webber's story is one that is sure to stick in your mind.
The book offers a morning, noon, afternoon and evening review of the 1st July. The artillery bomabrdments by the British was not successful. All along the front, barb wire was intact and machine gun posts unharmed. Wave after wave of British soldiers went over the top to be mown down. Poor communication did not stop later attacks, and we learn of the power struggle between the Generals involved.
This book should be in the collection of anyone who has an interest in World War 1. Material has been well researched, and the use of primary sources ensures that this work provides a close and personal resume. The accounts tell of slaughter on a huge scale, piles of dead bodies, men injured in no man's land with no chance of rescue, but also sincere patriotism and love for King and country. To show our respect, we owe it to those who died and those who survived to read their story.
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on 20 March 1999
Do not be mistaken by the title of this book: this is not merely an hour-by-hour account of 1 July 1916. No, crucially, in this book Middlebrook gives a comprehensive and most valuable background to Kitchener's Army: the origins of those unfortunate enough to be present, how they were structured, and what was hoped to have been achieved on this the most costly day in British military history. As is usual with Middlebrook, first-hand accounts are in profusion and lend the volume the presence and immediacy that is so characteristic of this author's accounts of armed conflict. Make this the first book you read about the BEF in WWI, particularly if one intends to visit the area. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 30 April 2001
The battle of the Somme unfolds as if your were there. Few wartime accounts are so well researched and this is a "must read" to learn about a generation that gave their lives for this country.
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on 22 August 2003
Having been a member of the Grenadier Guards for 12 years in peace time, I purchased this book in an attempt to uncover some of the regiments glorious past. Instead I found myself uncovering the truths and heroics of a generation of men that can stand as tall as Guardsmen. Who could ever put themselves in the frame of mind of the countless thousands that climbed out into the morning sun on that day. Martin Middlebrook took me in and amongst the hell that prevailed.
On the going down of the sun, we will remember them
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on 7 September 2005
Can anyone really understand this most classic of WWI battles, with its numbing calculus of bodies? The total inanity of it? The massive amounts of technology involved and the sheer amount of human wastage... 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded withing 5 hours of fighting...?
Martin Middlebrook has done a great job at bringing the evocative spirit of the Army to light and its sacrifice on the Somme. It is a small tragedy that people all over the British Commonwealth and the US would completely forget what modern man was capable of doing almost 100 yrs ago. It was a largest pile of human killing ever witnessed in a single day and it should be more properly remembered. Although other battles have lasted longer and consumed a few more lives... only at the Somme in 1916 do you see the full horror of mechanised death unbound.
Middlebrook descibes this army how and why it was comprised, the Pals Regiments (a novel idea that tragically would never be used by any army to recruit people), the regular Older British Army from 1914, the "Old Contemptables," the strategic situationa and the tactics employed in the greatest concentration of artillery firepower ever witnessed. So much so that it was described as a 24 hour frieght train passing overhead for 2 full weeks of pre-bombardment.
The heroics are here as well, the medical facilities that could not save many without modern antibiotics, the relentless marching with "guns at slope" into the German Machine Guns. Whole regiments destroyed. Whole battalions of 700 men with less than 100 effectives by noon on the first day was hardly novel.
The Somme represented a lot and in some ways signifiies the beginning of the modern era of doubt and the downfall of absolute authority and tradition. Authority and tradition that allowed such a catastrophe to happen. Beyond the battle if one is looking for the origins of post-modernism, as Wittgenstein learned, WWI taught the forgotten generation a lot. From the biting impact of bullets upon 10s of thousands of sacrificed servicemen, people eventually came to see that the world was more than empty slogans of glory and death for "King and Country".
Middlebrook has done a great job with this book.
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on 15 May 2015
Could well be the definitive book on the Somme. If you ever go on a battlefield tour to this area (and if you are interested in this subject you absolutely must, especially now as there are so many 100th anniversaries taking place) then you must read this book first. It really does bring alive the full horror of the unquestionable disaster that was the Somme. It is a balanced book that does show how the pressure on the French at Verdun was lifted by the attack but it also points a sharp finger at General Rawlinson (commander of the fourth army) who against Haig's advice (who incidentally did not over rule him) relied solely on the effectiveness of the artillery and did not listen to his troops on the ground who were telling him the wire was not destroyed neither were the German trenches. Ordering his troops to walk across no mans land without even pointing their guns at the enemy seems like pure folly and surely cost thousands of unnecessary deaths. Read this book, it is well researched and incredibly powerful and moving. (and then go to France)
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2003
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.
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on 27 April 2000
I first read this book in 1973 when I was just beginning my research into the Western Front 1914-1918. This is a must-read! This is a classic work since it tells the story from the viewpoint of the men who were actually there on 1st July, 1916, the day when Kitchener's Army was almost destroyed. Good photos and maps. If you are not familier with the Somme, then you can start with this account. Intensely moving at times.
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on 5 May 2015
My wife's grandad won the Military Medal on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. I've been researching him and this book just gave an insight into the goings on of that day. So well written, easy to read and a good addition to things I already knew.
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