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on 16 July 2005
A superbly written tribute to the men who were there with just enough technical detail to paint the background without overwhelming the human story.
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on 30 September 2001
This book was one of the most awe inspiring pieces of writing of a non-fictional book I have ever read. To actually read it whilst touring the battlefields of the Somme made me appreciate more the sacrifices made by so many men. It also allowed me to visualise the places that I was reading about, and at times had me close to tears of sadness, and surprisingly sometimes laughing at some of the stories recounted by the veterans whose stories are told.
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on 18 May 2008
I first read this book when I was 15 , (quite a few years ago) and since then I can only say that Mr. Middlebrook's book has made an indelible mark on my view of World War One and of the Somme in particular.
This book is the benchmark by which all history should be written , the author has accomplished something quite rare in that he has given voice to the experiences of the average soldier who endured that hellish day and used it to put meat on the bones of the divisional histories.
This is not a dry arid read , but one which informs and holds your attention , it is alive in your hands as you read it.
Middlebrook created in his work a standard approach to writing history which leaves no stone unturned and tells what has to be told from all points of view and at all levels , from the planners and staff on both sides down to the private soldier who had to go "over the top" and he who had to defend his trench against the British attack.
The sheer scale of the days operation leave you wondering just how it could have gone so wrong , and Mr. Middlebrook tells you how it went wrong - this is history which is told warts and all.
Apart from being a Military history this is book reflects on the nature of the men , how they came to the front - and the "Pals" , how a grand idea to recruit could not possibly have known the outcome in terms of the ruination of local communities.
Above all this is a very human book , it is impossible to read it and not be moved by the utter waste of it all , the wire which remained intact , a German defence system which was largely intact and ready to defeat the British advance , the misplaced confidence in what the big guns would accomplish and the fact that the same ground was still being fought over almost two years later when the Germans would attack over the same ground in 1918.

If you had to read one book on 1914-18 this should be the one to pick up.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2007
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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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2005
I first read this wonderful book during the early 1970s when I was just beginning my research on the Western Front of 1914-1918. What struck me about it was that it is a great Human story. It doesnt always dwell on Tactics, Statistics; Military Strategy, but concentrates on the feelings and memories of the men who were actually there on the very first day when 57,000 men of Kitchener's Army, the largest Volunteer Army ever raised fell in battle; 20,000 killed or died later of wounds. Moreover, the profound sense of terrible loss is conveyed within the very pages which makes reading an emotional experience. Readers today however, can never hope to experience the same sort of experiences shared by so many men on 1st July 1916, and although the descriptions of battle are profound, one can only imagine what it was actually like. Nevertheless, what is more important today is to remember, and to value the sacrifice made by so many. The book is well illustrated with a good index of information. Best photograph by the way is the picture of Blighty Valley Cemetery as it was just after the war, and how it looks today. Its profoundly moving.
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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 22 August 2002
If you are particularly interested in this subject, then I strongly advise that you visit the 1916 Somme battlefield area described in the book.
I have been interested in this battle for some time now but it was'nt until I visted the places described in the book that I could put events and places into context.
To get a perspective on the distances involved and for example the relationship between villages, road junctions, wooded area's
and so on will add to your enjoyment of the wonderfully researched book.
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on 5 February 2001
Martin Middlebrook. I didn't know he even existed as an authour until one day I needed to read something about the Somme for my British History essay at my University. This book is absolutely amazing and made me feel very passionate for the British Soldiers in World War One. And being an American to boot, this seems all quite odd. It is a very fast paced book and easy to read. It inspired me, in fact, to write a short story about the Somme. Hope to see it again soon so I can buy the darn thing!
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on 12 November 2001
Each year i choose a subject to concentrate my interests on for the year.I Decided to enhance my knowledge about the British forces in the first world war and decided to start by having a brief visit to Albert,Thiepval and surrounding areas this year.This was quite an incredible Experience and one that will stay with me forever.I Decided i had a rough idea about the terrible plight of those who went to the Somme,but needed to know more.Martin Middlebrook has now put the missing pieces of the Jigsaw into place as i became enhanced in the book and could rarely put it down,much to my my employers annoyance.He made me feel like i was one of those that had to go over the top and made you feel inside the heads of those involved in the absolute Carnage of this awful mess.This Book certainly done the job for people like me who like to learn more about our own Heritage.I Think the Younger Generation should read a book like this to make them realise that being born in this era is not as bad as they seem to feel,not that i am that old myself at 37.A Fantastic Book we all await someone with the bottle to actually make a modern film about the plight of these brave men and women.Regeneration and the Trench of the recent films were good but perhaps someone will truly explain what really happened.
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on 12 September 2007
Middlebrook's 'First Day' is now quite an old book - but it is also a great book. It is excellently researched, particularly in terms of unit data, well written, engaging, and has a horrible but fascinating fatalistic quality. The reader knows all along what is going to happen - the British Army's bloodiest day - but suspense is effectively maintained until the tragedy unfolds.

The only real problem is that Middlebrook's work is of such high quality and drama that it has helped to focus the attention of both the public and historians on 1st July rather to the detriment of more balanced study of the remainder of the battle of the Somme - which went on four another four months. Nevertheless this is our problem, not the author's, for Middlebrook's work - with all its evocative first hand accounts and readabilty remains a classic history. Highly recommended.
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