The year 1916 was the year of the Battle of the Somme. As the year opened, the two great opposing armies remained deadlocked in a line of trenches which stretched 966 kilometres from the Belgian coast through France to the frontiers of Switzerland. Here, men faced each other over the strewn, decaying wastes of No Man’s Land, and confronted the realities of dirt, disease and death.
Source A is taken from a book about the trench warfare by an English historian who was published in 1976. As shown in the provenance, the extract has been published in 1976, exactly 60 years from the Battle itself. It may have been written to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Battle and think of the soldiers who had died to honour for their country. The extract may have been written by an English historian in order for him to be critical of the Battle.
In the starting sentence of the paragraph, it shows a meaningful way of describing the life of the soldiers by the word, “bleak”. The word is recounting the life the soldiers are leading and at many times, leaves the soldiers bored, which then leads onto tiredness. Every day, just before dawn approached, the men manned the fire-step in case the enemy mounted a dawn attack, this procedure was known as the Stand- to. The Stand- to system made the soldiers feel wide awake as the procedure was just after their sleep, though many of them weren’t able to catch up on much sleep as some of them were on guard duty. After the Stand- to, breakfast was served and many of them had to try and wash regularly in order to not attract flies and lice which were a main hazard during their “journey”.
The quote, “…as best as they could”, shows us that the men did not have time to shave and wash perfectly as operations were carried out every so often and that properly shaving and washing would waste valuable time. There were hardly any quiet days for rest and if there was, it would only last a few hours. Relaxation was difficult as many of the men were either watching guard or hoping that the shells launched by the enemy would miss and pass over them. The quote, “relaxation was difficult”, shows us that many of the men were frightened and afraid that a shell would have hit them and anxiety would take its toll. We also know that there was hardly any time to relax as “inspections, guard duty and work detail” took up most of the day showing that not only did they not get any sleep and relaxation period, but they also had to stay neat and many of them had to go on guard patrol.
Most of the nights were taken up by the soldiers carrying out the operations, moving into the front lines, repairing the wire-bags and dug-outs, moving in military weapons and most importantly, going across No Mans Land, trying to capture enemy spies or even spy on enemy tactics. A disadvantage to the extract is that it is only one paragraph long, showing that the historian may have only selected appropriate sentences in order in get the point across, this shows that the whole extract may show us more into the lives of the soldiers living in the trenches. The Source does not show us about trench foot, lice, smell, rats or in summer, flies. This would have given us more evidence into the life of a soldiers, showing how “bleak” and deprived of their lives.
Source B and C support the evidence given in Source A though there are some limitations in the supporting of the extract. The reasons why there are some limitations are because each Source is different. Source A is an extract from a book, Source B is a photograph and Source C is a table, this shows that the Sources aren’t actually accurate as they are all different.
Source B supports the evidence given in Source A because in the picture it relates to Source A, because it shows the men trying to relax after Stand – to, though this would be very difficult because the men are on guard and they are looking for enemy spies trying to approach them. This is slightly different as the soldier on guard is situated at the back of the trench and the fire – step is on the opposite side, thus showing us that the trench has been captured by British troops. The trench is a German trench because the trench is very deep and wide and we know that the Germans were the first soldiers to get to the battlefield and create larger trenches. Source A is associated with Source B because it quotes in the extract, “relaxation was difficult”.
This is linked with the picture because the picture is showing one of the men on guard and the rest of them sleeping, although at any time the men could get up if they were under attack. In Source B it doesn’t show any fighting as we can relate this to Source A, shown in the extract as the paragraph doesn’t talk about any fighting, but what the men do in their spare time e.g. washing and shaving. In Source A it doesn’t quote about other aspects of the negative sides such as, trench foot, lice, stench, and rats and in summer, flies. In Source B it doesn’t show the negative sides of the Battle for example, the picture does not show any injured or the dead casualties. The picture only shows a limited amount of the trench, not showing other phase of the trench and in the extract it only shows a part of the book, thus showing a comparison between Source A and B.
Source C is related to Source A, because on the table it shows the actual heavy fighting which took place and before the French soldiers started to fight because the table only states the British casualties and not the allies. The Source also shows us that the British conscripted their soldiers and had a keen interest to see how they have coped throughout the war and how many survived. Source C though does has similarities with Source A but also contradicts the paragraph by showing the deaths of the soldiers rather than in the paragraph where it shows the “life” of the soldiers, not the deaths. The deaths in the first part of the table show the soldiers casualties before The Big Push, and Source A shows the life during The Big Push. During The Big Push, there was 893 deaths, only British deaths, showing the soldiers had a 1 in 4 chance of reaching it back home, which also contradicts Source A.
Source D helps in the supporting of the war because it shows the story was told to children of Empire who were the allies. The source is shown to support the war because telling the children about the allied soldiers and that God is on their side and Germany were evil, shows us that the children would acknowledge this and once they get older, and if their was a war, would help to fight and support the war again. Also, the public at home would support the war because the paragraph quotes the words, “honour justice and truth”; this is shown in the provenance and also stated in the main part of the Source which is “Forward went these brave fighters…” and “Heroes all!” these phrases show an uplifting morale for the public at home and showing a good confidence in order for supporting.
The paragraph was published to boost self-esteem and justify going over the top. In the extract the Germans are referred to as “cowardly Huns”, this shows the people back at home that the soldiers are the brave fighters whilst the Germans are the cowards and that defeating them would be easy. This would then boost the publics’ morale and they would give all the support they could. As shown in the provenance the extract is aimed at children, mainly boys. Because the extract is aimed at boys, they may become future soldiers and ask their dad to join the army, this was an advertisement for conscription so the boys, once older or the dad’s would voluntarily join the army in order to support the war. This way, there would be more supporters for the war. Although Source D is useful in answering the question, Source D is not really objective; it shows the allies doing God’s work for him. The lines, “Line after line pressed on, shooting, bayoneting and capturing the enemy”. This line is very patriotic and publishing this line would help to maintain the war.
Source E is a letter written by Lieutenant John Raws. This was his last letter. The letter we think is the people at home to show that Raws’s friends had been murdered by the Generals by, we assume, making them go over the top whilst walking. Raws shows his anger in the paragraph by the words, “I am so bitter” though this letter was shown to the public at home, it contradicts the question because the point Raws is trying to make across is that the Generals of the Australian army are mean and evil and murder their soldiers and showing this to the public at home would want them to think again about supporting the war. Raws may have written the letter also to the press to show his views about the war. Raws was a soldier at the time of the war and wrote the letter during the war, showing that the letter was more accurate coming from a soldier and showing the true story behind the war. Raws has been harsh with his point maybe because his friends have died and given himself a narrow minded view of the war, and try to over throw the war effort, give it bad press.
The questions which are not answered in the extract are who is Goldy? Was he killed by own fire? How old he was when he wrote it? I found out two of the questions answered by going to the website www.cwgc.org, he we find out John Raws was 31 years old when he wrote the letter and that Goldy was his brother. Source F is an extract from the film, “The Battle of the Somme”, shown in Picture Palaces across the Empire between the times of August – September 1916. Source F helps to understand why the public at home supported the war because the film is sanitized version of death, not showing many killings.
This way the public back at home would support the war, especially the families and munitions workers to show them they are doing a great job and are assisting the war very well. Some parts of the film are staged, just as the launching of bombs, just in case the bombs backfire and attack them instead. The purpose of the source is for morale and propaganda, to lift the spirits of the people back at home. Also another reason for the source is to show that God is on their side, this way the people at home will support the war even more, carry on making munitions, men are now willing to fight for their country and lastly pride. Footage of a German trench captured on the first day is shown in the film, however we all know that the first day was a disaster as the British captured no prisoners and the day resulted in very high casualties. One clip of script claims that the German attacks were unsuccessful.
Finally there are clip that showed dead German soldiers, but not dead British soldiers, which gave the false impression that the war was going quite well for the allies. As people were much more “green” then, they believed that everything in the video was honest, when in actual fact; there are many scenes in it that can be labelled as ‘bogus’. One such scene is the scene where the cameraman is in a position that would have been dangerous to be in; on a battlefield. Another scene that seems fake is the scene showing the British soldiers running across No-Mans Land. The reason following my judgement of this scene is that the orders given by the officers were to walk across No-mans land and wear full kit; the exact opposite of what the soldiers in the clip did. Source E contradicts source F because their descriptions of trench warfare are totally opposites.
There were many reasons why the Battle of the Somme resulted in such high casualties.
First of all, Source G shows us the corpses of many of the soldiers that died due to the war. Behind the dead bodies is a sign in French saying “British Military Cemetery- Windmill” this shows us that a windmill use to stand in the area, but due to the fact it wasn’t there after the war had finished, this shows us that there was total devastation and there must have been many casualties. This would have been very hard to fight in and we know that if the source of destruction could have destroyed something as big as a windmill, it could have easily massacred men. This offers some clues as to how they died and what happened to the missing, but it still only gives us a taste of the number of massacred men. Source G also offers some insight into why there were so many deaths. First of all, in the battlefield, there was nowhere to hide, as it was just an open field of grass.
There were no walls or trees on the battlefield. We also know that many soldiers were killed with machine guns. Machine guns aimed through holes in the barbed wire as soldiers ran past. At one point the remains of 60 soldiers were found in one gap. Shells were another reason that there were so many casualties. One shell could destroy anything that was near it. Evidence of this obliteration is the gigantic shell holes, which remain on the battlefield to this day. The shell holes also caused fatality after the shell exploded. Many soldiers fell in and would suffocate under soldiers that fell on top of them. Many of the shell’s shards of metal would pierce the skin of the soldiers and rip out the gut and make pieces of body parts fly off.
The main objective of the 1st day of the battle was to capture Pozieres. Pozieres are mounted on high land as Germans were the first to get there and they chose the place to make trenches first, this meant that British, Australian and New Zealanders troops would have to attack upwards, forcing many of them to lose their lives trying to just clamber to the top of the hill. Many of the living soldiers had to dig up mass graves so that the soldiers to be buried to save space, this gives us an indication of exactly how many casualties there were. We think that the faces of the dead are covered because either it is a sign for respect or because of shrapnel, could deform the face and wound the face, and it isn’t very pleasant to show the faces of injured. The trenches were not very deep this meant that soldiers were simple attack and shoot at. Also the distances the soldiers had to run were long-lasting and the slopes they had to run up very sharp and steep.
This meant that they got very weary, would have slowed down whilst walking and would have been easier to attack. Another reason for so many casualties was the fact that the orders given for the attack were to walk and not run and the uncut barbed wire got in the way too many times. Because the barbed wire was uncut, this drastically slowed the soldiers down.
This led to another problem; the speed of the soldiers. The soldiers were told to walk because they thought the wire would be destroyed and that nothing would get in their way because of the bombs being thrown towards the German trenches to uproot the barbed wire. Obviously when they had reached the German trenches, the Germans would have had enough time to assemble their weapons and could have easily attacked the British soldiers especially that they had already organised their machine guns to gun down the British and allies. The fact that many of the graves were cased as unknown shows us that many of the soldiers were that badly blemished that they are unable to recognise the soldiers. To be this disfigured must have been a horrific ordeal to go through and to bury.
I believe that the statement ‘The soldiers who fought on the Somme were lions led by donkeys’ is only partly correct, because there area number of points which also contradict this theory. Lord Kitchener had made an appeal all across the United Kingdom to try to sign up over a million soldiers
One of the reasons of this battle was to relieve stress off the French soldiers who had been under heavy attack at Verdun, giving more time for the Germans to gain energy and give them time they needed for incoming attacks.
The battle was badly planned. For instance, the choice of the battlefield was not first-rate; the Somme sector was chosen for the fact it was very quiet. A documentary also claims that the Germans were professionally trained soldiers; their reserves were well trained too – as opposed to the promising new recruits from Kitchener’s Campaign.
World War 1 was the first mechanised war, therefore the generals were used to fighting old-style wars on horseback etc, and this led to the soldiers questioned the tactics of the generals.
The shells used to bombard the German trenches contained shrapnel, which was thought to be able to cut the barbed wire. The soldiers were told that the wires would be cut and nothing could stop them, however, shrapnel is made of lead metal which is soft and cannot cut metal wires. They thought that this would be easier for the British to get past to the Germans, kill them and invade the trenches.
All the soldiers were told that the bombardment would kill the Germans and smash their trenches. However it only had little effect. Troops were told to walk across No-mans land because General Haig thought that the Germans would be dead. He thought that there would be no opposition, everything would be simple and they could walk. The thing was that the bombardment did not kill the Germans and because they weren’t dead and the Germans attacked the British with machine guns and mowed them down.
There were two types of means of communication; these were telephone wires and messengers. At many times the wires would have cut off because of being trodden on or being severed by the shelling of the bombs. The messengers, at many times were killed during there journey across the trenches and at many times, were very slow on there motorcycles due to the thick mud. When the messages did reach the other side, most the messages had been interpreted the wrong way, causing the soldiers to make mistakes and cost lives. The Germans knew that when the mine blew up, it signalled the beginning of the battle, so they assembled their guns. The British could have got to the German trenches in time, had they run. Also the fact that each soldier carried around 70 pounds of equipment as their walk was yet another flaw in the battle plan. This meant that the soldiers were weighed down and they could not have escaped fast enough from the Germans. However we must note that the orders given to the soldiers do make sense if enemy is actually dead. Also the General did not really have any other alternatives.
In my opinion, the terms, “donkeys” is only correct to a certain extent. This is because the mistakes made during the battle were inevitable. The Generals did not really have much choice in what they could and could not do. Inconsistently, some of the mistakes could have easily been avoided had the Generals not assumed that the attack would have been so uncomplicated. My overall opinion on the phrase is that the Generals should not have sent the soldiers under those circumstances and even if they did, they should have been allowed to run, so the phrase is somewhat inequitable but not completely inaccurate.