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Will surely become a standard reference text
on 16 March 2014
WHEN scores of British battalions attacked on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, many did so into a maelstrom of shrapnel and small arms fire.
By the day's end, almost 60,000 had become casualties which included 19,000 killed; it was, and still remains, the British Army's bloodiest day.
In Slaughter on the Somme, historians Martin Mace and John Grehan have, for the first time, presented the war diaries of those battalions which went over the top on July 1, 1916, to form the most comprehensive and unique narrative of that fateful day.
The diaries are presented on a corps by corps basis, and start from the northern end of the battlefield.
It is here that men of the 1/6 North Staffords and 1/5 Sherwood Foresters, part of the 46th North Midland Division launched their disastrous attack at Gommecourt.
Many families in East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire would have had relatives who fought here, and for those who want to find out about what their ancestors went through this book would be an ideal place to start.
While each battalion would have kept a war diary, the level of written detail does vary considerably between each unit. For example, the entry from the 1/5 Sherwood Foresters includes a detailed account from T.F.C Downman, who led a platoon during the attack. However, the entry for the 1/6 North Staffords is less detailed.
But that does not detract from the book, which is essentially primary source material in its purist form.
The book has been formulated from transcribing literally scores of handwritten diaries, which given their age and the conditions in which they were written is no mean feat.
The comprehensive scope of the book also means this will surely become a standard reference text for anyone from the amateur family historian to the academic scholar and will stand alongside other great works on the battle.