"On through the heat of slaughter Where gallant comrades fall Where blood is poured like water They drive the trickling ball The fear of death before them Is but an empty name True to the land that bore them The Surreys play the game"
A Company of the East Surrey Regiment is reported to have dribbled four footballs-the gift of their Captain, who fell in the fight and dash; for a mile and a quarter into the enemy trenches.
On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades Fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them
Is but an empty name.
True to the land that bore them-
The SURREYS play the game.
And so on for two more stanzas. If anyone at the time thought Captain Nevill's act preposterous, no one said so. The nearest thing to such an attitude is a reference in the humorous trench newspaper The Wipers Times (Sept. 8, 1917), but even here the target of satire is not so much the act of Captain Nevill as the rhetoric of William Beach Thomas, who served as the Daily Mail's notoriously fatuous war correspondent. As the famous correspondent "'Teech Bomas," he is made to say of Nevill's attack: "On they came kicking footballs, and so completely puzzled the Potsdammers. With one last kick they were amoungst them with the bayonet, and although the Berliners battled bravely for a while, they kameraded with the best." (The Great War and Modern Memory, 27-28.)
Another company commander was Capt. W. P. Nevill of the 8th East Surreys. Nevill was a young officer who liked to stand on the fire-step each evening and shout insults at the Germans. His men were to be in the first wave of the assault near Montauban and he was concerned as to how they would behave, for they have never taken part in an attack before.
While he was on leave, Nevill bought four footballs, one for each of his platoons. Back in the trenches, he offered a prize to the first platoon to kick its football up to the German trenches on the day of the attack. One platoon painted the following inscription on its ball:
The Great European Cup
East Surreys v Bavarians
Kick Off at Zero
In the 8th East Surreys, Capt. Nevill's four platoons, each with a football, competed for their company
commander's prize. Nevill himself kicked off. 'As the gun-fire died away
I saw an infantryman climb onto the parapet into No Man's
Land, beckoning others to follow. As he did so he kicked off
a football; a good kick, the ball rose and travelled well
towards the German line. That seemed to be the signal to advance.' (Pte L.S. Price, 8th Royal Sussex)
*One of the footballs is in the National Army Museum and another in the Queen's Regiment Museum, Howe Barracks, Canterbury.
When the unwounded survivors of the battle had returned
to the villages or billets from which they had marched only
a day or two earlier, battalions were paraded and roll calls were
held. In the hardest hit battalions this was a sad occasion as
less than 100 men answered out of 700 or more names that were
The winning footballers of the 8th East Surreys were unable to collect the prize money from their commander. Capt. Nevill was dead.
The soldiers of 1916 were not supermen; they did not
belong to a special generation. They were merely ordinary Britons,
who believed that they had to fight to save their
country. It turned out that theirs was to be an unlucky and
ill-used generation. What do they think now, the men who
survived the war and then fifty years of normal life?
'It was pure bloody murder. Douglas Haig should have been hung, drawen and quartered for what he did on the Somme. The cream of British manhood was shattered in less than six hours.' (Pte P. Smith, 1st Border)
'Even so, war is a daft game. Some say that they enjoyed every moment. Their comrades don't believe them.' (Sgt C. E. Linford, 466th Field Company R.E.)
'I cursed, and still do, the generals who caused us to suffer such torture, living in filth, eating filth, and then, death or injury just to boost their ego.' (Pte W.H. Haigh, 1/5th Yorks and Lancs)
'From that moment all my religion died. All my teaching and beliefs in God had left me, never to return.' (Pte C. Bartram, 94th Trench Mortar Battery)
'We had "Gott mit uns" ("God with us") on our belt buckles, but we still lost the war.' (Gefreiter Hugo van Egeren, 55th Reserve Regiment)
"The memories of those heart-breaking days will last forever. The name Serre and the date July 1st is engraved deep in our hearts, along with the faces of our "Pals", a grand crowd of chaps. We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying." (Pte A.V. Pearson, Leeds Pals)
Haig had been in overall command of the battel and was ultimately responsible for it. Maxwell, the Quartermaster General, had placed only three ambulance trains in Fourth Army area on the first day after Rawlinson had requested eighteen trains, a failure which had led to such unnecessary suffering among the wounded.
Haig and Rawlinson were protected by the sheer enormity of the disaster. It was several days before the full extent of the losses were known in France, let alone in England. By then the battle had moved into another phase and the opportunity for a swift recall to England had passed.
Hunter-Weston and his corps staff were moved from the battle area before the end of the month to a quiet sector far from the Somme. This was almost certainly requested by Gough, who had taken over Hunter-Weston's part of the front. Gough tried to get rid of his other corps commander, Morland, who had handled the attacks on Thiepval and the Leipzig Redoubt, but this time Gough was out of luck. Haig turned down the request.
Some time during the second half of 1916, a suggestion came from the War Office that Lieut-Gen. Maxwell should return to England; possibly this was a result of the ambulance train fiasco of 1 July. Haig, always loyal to his subordinates, resisted, and Maxwell retained his position.
HOwever, there was still one more 1 July General to go. Maj.-Gen. Pilcher, commander of the 17th (Northern) Division, had been ordered to detach his 50th Brigade to another division on the first day, and had had to stand idly by while it suffered heavy losses. One of its battalions was Philip Howe's, the 10th West Yorks, which had suffered more casualties than any other battalion in the whole battle on 1 July.
During the next few days the division sustained further heavy casualties, under Pilcher's pressure now, but subjected to relentless pressure from the corps commander, Lieut-Gen. Horne. On 11 July, Horne sent for Pilcher accused him of not driving his division hard enough, and sent him home. Horne was certainly a demanding master, for he relieved another major-general the same day. (This was Maj.-Gen. I. Philips, commander of the 38 (Welsh) Division, whose division was not in action on 1 July. The official History makes no mention of any of these dismissals.)
Pilcher was much aggrieved by his dismissal. 'It is very easy to sit a few miles in the rear and get the credit for allowing men to be killed in an undertaking doomed to failure, but the part did not appeal to me and my protests against these useless attacks were not well received.' (Mag.-Gen. T.D. Pilcher, 17th (Northern) Division)
Neither Stuart-Wortley nor Pilcher was ever again given an operational command. Stuart-Wortley was posted to Ireland and Pilcher remained in England. Almost without exception, the soldiers who had served under them in France thought that they had been removed for losing too many men, whereas in both cases their dismissal was caused by their . . [misstyped - lachlan] . . no room for soft-hearted generals on the Western Front in 1916.
In contrast to the 'degommering' of Stuart-Wortley and Pilcher, the hard-driving Horne was soon promoted. In October he was given command of the First Army. He had been a corps commander for only five months, but his methods were those in fashion.
The presence of the three Regular Divisions in the first five places in the table shows how their battalions had preserved the traditions of the Old Army by pressing their attacks to the limits of their strength, but the sacrifice of these divisions had brought not a single yard of German trench as a permanent capture.
The position of the North Midland Dividion at the bottom of the main table shows how Maj.-Gen. Stuart-Wortley had managed to save most of his division. It had cost him his command.
Perhaps the differing attitudes between the Old Army and the New can be summed up in two quotations. The history of the Essex Regiment, whose losses had nearly all been in its two Regular battalions, describes 1 July as 'A trying day on the Somme'. To them it was just another bad day in a long war.
By contrast, the 9th Yorks and Lancs, a New Army battalion of South Yorkshire miners which had lost 423 men in its first battle, was to write of this day:
So end the Golden Age
"Vitai Lampada" Sir Henry Newbolt (1862 to 1938) (http://zeitcom.com/majgen/099vitlam.html) There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night Ten to make and the match to win -- A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play and the last man in. And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat, Or the selfish hope of a season's fame, But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote "Play up! play up! and play the game!" The sand of the desert is sodden red, -- Red with the wreck of a square that broke;-- The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead, And the regiment blind with dust and smoke. The river of death has brimmed his banks, And England's far, and Honor a name, But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks, "Play up! play up! and play the game!" This is the word that year by year While in her place the School is set Every one of her sons must hear, And none that hears it dare forget. This they all with a joyful mind Bear through life like a torch in flame, And falling fling to the host behind-- "Play up! play up! and play the game!"
Execution. At 10.05am on January 31, 1945, Private Eddie D.Slovik, 36896415, of Company G, 109th.Infantry Regiment, US 28th.Infantry Division, was executed by a twelve man firing squad from his own regiment. The execution took place in the garden of a villa at No.86, Rue de General Dourgeois, in the town of St.Marie-Aux-Mines, near Colmar in eastern France. Slovik, the son of poor Polish immigrants, was the only American since the Civil War to be shot for desertion. Of the hundred thousand or so GI deserters from the US Army, 2,864 were tried by General court-martial for desertion since the war began. Forty nine were sentenced to death but in only one case, that of Eddie Slovik, was the sentence carried out. Colonel James E. Rudder of the 109th Infantry Regiment would later write to his men "The person that is not willing to fight and die, if need be, for his country has no right to life". The villa at No.86 has since been demolished and three residential apartment blocks have been built on the site. The street name has also been changed.
Military Crimes. A total of 49 US soldiers were hanged for crimes that were committed on French soil after the D-Day landings. In the whole European theatre of operations, 109 civilians were murdered by American soldiers. In Germany, 107 German nationals were murdered.
The 1903 Australian Defence Act stipulated that the Governor General of Australia had to confirm the sentences passed by courts-martial - and he never endorsed the sentences. Although Haig made strong representations for power to inflict the extreme penalty upon Australian soldiers, the sanction was continually denied."
In total British court martials condemned 306 soldiers to be shot at dawn. Among them were 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen and 5 New-Zealanders. Australia was the only country that did not want its soldiers (all volunteers) to be executed.
The German army carried out at least 48 death-sentences. The real figure is probably much higher; most documents seem to be destroyed.
In the French army more than 600 soldiers were put to death. Little known is the French decimation (the shooting of every tenth person in a unit) of the 10e Compagnie of 8 Battalion of the Régiment Mixte de Tirailleurs Algériens. During the retreat at the beginning of the war these French-African soldiers refused an order to attack. They were shot on the 15th of December 1914 near Zillebeeke in Flanders"
This happened before. In the past historians also almost reached a sort of mutual agreement on a revisionist interpretation which developed in the 1920's. Many years and thousands of studies later this interpretation is now, slowly, giving way for a new one.
This view of the origins of the war was challenged by the German historian Fritz Fischer. To the chagrin of other German intellectuals, who preferred the theory that the other countries involved in World War I were at fault, Fischer's concluded that the Germans under the Kaiser had expansionist goals in the war. Writing in the 1960's, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Fischer argued that leading groups in Germany - including the Kaiser - sought a war which would establish German control over much of Europe.
Canadian leading military historian prof. Terry Copp, who wrote most of the summary above, adds that this 'new consensus' must seem ironic to allied First World War veterans, ,,...because it presents the origins of the war much as the people of 1914 understood them."