Battle of the Somme (2)

I’m giving away a copy of Joe Sacco’s The Great War, what NPR called a “panorama of devastation,” an accordian-fold book, 24 feet long, about day one of The Battle of the Somme. Scroll down to enter.

Those in charge—at least, in charge of the British forces—imagined that the German lines would be pounded soft by a week of heavy shelling, nearly two million shells from the field artillery. They were certain that the wire would be shredded, the ground cleared, the resulting charge would be the first phase of an inexorable march on Berlin.

They were wrong.220px-The_Battle_of_the_Somme_film_image2

The Germans had simply retreated into their deep and permanent shelters (some had glass-fronted cabinets built in) behind a 25-mile long, hundred-foot wide river of barbed wire as thick as a man’s finger, until the cease of shelling told them it was time to come up. On the British side, officers blew their whistles to go over the top. Across from them, on high ground, the German machine guns waited.

Corporal WH Shaw of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers remembered it like this:

Our artillery hadn’t made any impact on those barbed-wire entanglements.   The result was we never got anywhere near the Germans.   Our lads were mown down.   They were just simply slaughtered.   You were either tied down by the shelling or the machine-guns and yet we kept at it, making no impact on the Germans at all.   And those young officers, going ahead, they were picked off like flies.   We tried to go over and it was just impossible.   We were mown down.

Or as General Spears put it:

My memory was seared with the picture of the French and British attacking together on the Somme on July 1st 1916, the British rigid and slow, advancing as at a military parade in lines which were torn and ripped by the German guns, while the French tactical formations, quick and elastic, secured their objectives with trifling loss.   It had been a terrible spectacle.   As a display of bravery it was magnificent.   As an example of tactics its very memory made me shudder.


The-Great-War-by-Joe-Sacco-bookJoe Sacco’s The Great War is a modern Bayeux Tapestry on paper, a detailed panorama of the first day of the Somme battle. To enter my drawing for Joe Sacco’s gorgeous The Great Warpop over here before midnight Monday.


  1. Georgianna Miller on July 2, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    I love history and art, what a great combination. I hope I win.

  2. Barbara McMahon on July 2, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Such an horrific battle . My husband is a history teacher and buff of The Great War and WW II. I t has been so interesting to see the ceremonies in England honoring those lost but not forgotten 100 years ago.

  3. Susan Hamrick on July 3, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Very heart breaking. Did anyone see the live art in the Great Britain two days ago? An artist had a little be concept and they dressed 1500 young men in WW1 battle uniforms. They were then deployed all over and never said a word but handed out business type cards with the information about a particular young man, his age and where he was from when he died in the first day of the battle.

    • Laurie King on July 3, 2016 at 11:17 am

      I didn’t see that, how great a way to focus minds…

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