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100 Years Since the Battle of the Somme
By Kris Deichler, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International
100 years ago today in a beautiful and until then, mostly peaceful part of the French countryside, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War had begun.
It was a fairly usual weekday morning for me in 2016, swimming at the local gym until the lifeguards unusually asked everyone to get out of the pool just before 07:30 for two minutes of silence. I didn't realise straight away, but soon discovered it was a silence in commemoration of the Battle of the Somme.
As I stood there, still wet from the pool and feeling a slight chill from the air, the reality of the situation suddenly struck me. Here I had been enjoying some peaceful exercise in complete freedom and safety, at my own leisure. However, one hundred years ago today, at that exact same time, 100,000 British men of my age and many much younger still were starting to climb out of their basic and muddy trenches to the sound of their officers' whistles.
Young, green and no doubt scared to death, thousands of these young men, many of whom had joined up together in their local 'Pals' battalions, would climb up into green fields often yet to be churned and mired by the machines of war, only to walk into a hail of deadly German machine-gun fire minutes later...
It was a sobering and very humbling thought. Any complaint or worries that might have been in my mind were very quickly extinguished and were replaced by a deep sense of appreciation for the safety, freedoms and relative peace that we all enjoy today. To give you an idea of what that morning was like for those who were there, here are some quotes taken from an article in the Daily Telegraph:
The German machine guns sputter into life. Private Slater of the Bradford Pals recalls:
“For some reason, nothing seemed to happen to us at first. We strolled along as though walking in a park. Then, suddenly, we were in the midst of a storm of machine gun bullets and I saw men beginning to twirl round and fall in all kinds of curious ways as they were hit – quite unlike the way actors do it in films.”
At Gommecourt, Edward Liveing climbs out of his trench and waves his rifle to advance:
“A continuous hissing noise” is audible all around him, “like a railway engine letting off steam”. It is the passing of German bullets. Ahead of him the second line is disappearing into the smoke, one man after another falling down. A terrified hare jumps up in front of him and runs into some yellowing grass. He keeps walking."
The 1st of July 1916 remains the worst single day in history for the British Army. By the end of it there were 57,470 British casualties, of which 19,240 had been killed. This all in one day. The battle would see men such as J.R.R Tolkien, the poet Wilfred Owen, Anne Frank's own father and even Adolf Hitler taking part. It was a day that began over 4 months of continuous carnage that would end on the 18th November 1916 with 481,842 British, about 250,000 French and 236,194 German casualties.
In a time where the future of Europe is looking perhaps it's most precarious and uncertain for over half a century, we must remember why things like the European Union were formed. We are so incredibly lucky to live in the Europe of relative peace and affluence as we do today, where none of us are being asked to face the horrors that a 'lost generation' were once asked to do. There is much that needs to change and much that needs to improve in the wake of Brexit and surely if peace and cooperation are to continue, we must strive to focus on our similarities rather than our differences and on finding resolutions and solutions instead of problems.
To find out more, here is a rolling account of how the day unfolded, compiled by the Daily Telegraph...
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