Robert Kershaw is a former para officer who has served in a number of Theaters. With ten military books and many articles in the broadsheet papers to his credit he is fast becoming a recognised authority on military history from Waterloo onward .
- Robert Kershaw.
As you would expect 24 Hours at The Somme is exactly that; Kershaw has taken the first 24 hours and provided us with an awesome and awe inspiring document of this Battle which caused over 50,000 British casualties in its first day. Bear in mind that the general staff had planned for eight to ten thousand maximum. We are taken (on both sides ) through the planning , the assault and defence to the final state of play at the end of the first day which was not what either side had planned or prepared for.
First off there were the communications, the British had strung so many telephone lines out that it became like a telephone exchange for a small city and because they were surface laid were knocked out in very short shrift. The Germans buried their cables and it was far easier to repair breaks when needed but allied to that the Germans were taught to use their initiative when the moment arose. They had been bombarded for seven long days and when the attack finally came they wanted revenge on those who had them cowed like rats in their bunkers .
The British were micromanaged by staff at HQ , front line officers had up to 20 pages of instruction and rules, each soldier carried a backbreaking amount of kit then on top of that were rolls of barbed wired other building materiel which made it almost impossible to function. We all wonder how those PBI must have felt awaiting for the whistle to blow and what made them actually go over the top knowing that the wire was not breached. Kershaw has painted such a clear picture that as you are reading you are holding your breath and mentally checking and rechecking your kit. Orders were given on both sides to take no prisoners, and the Germans, on being sniped at by wounded Brits on and in front of the wire needed no second bidding. I could go on for hours describing the Battle but Kershaw does it far better than me; he has trawled numerous libraries and archives inspected many personal documents and spent a great deal of time putting them all together for us. He should receive some award for this tour de force. You know, if he told me that he was there after reading this epic I would believe him!
Just to end, I had never heard of Geoffrey Mallins ( Robert documents him through out the day ) but he filmed some seriously wounded men in no mans land, one in particular who was rescued by two soldiers one man in a cardigan and another in shirt sleeves and braces. In the film the wounded man is passed from the exhausted chap in the pullover to Private George Raine a tunneller with the DLI. Mallins captures Pte Raine heading for the first line dressing station clearly fatigued, glancing directly into the camera; an images which has been seen by millions and millions of people in the last 100 years .My non fiction book of the year five mushrooms .