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Alexandra Churchill with Andrew Holmes
The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days resulting in one million casualties on all sides. The author has brought a different viewpoint of the battle by selecting 141 people from British & Dominion armies, one on each day of the Battle and describes their final days and hours as much as is known. These are not celebrities but in the main ordinary people, however it ranges from a Major General down to a private soldier shot for desertion. Also included is a woman working with the YMCA who died just behind the front lines from cerebral meningitis but is in every way a casualty of the Battle. Each individual's story ends with the location of their grave, but inevitably so many end with “His body, if recovered, was never identified and he is commemorated on ......” giving the location of the Panel on the Thiepval Memorial.

The book is very well presented and is just under coffee-table size but will fit onto the bookshelf of any military history aficionado. This is a grim book which tells the story in a way which shows the plight of the people involved and what they had to go through in the run up to their death; and Death does not discriminate, young, old (for soldiers), ordinary men from ordinary lives to the Lords of the Land, Generals to private soldiers each one found their grave on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916.

Set out chronologically, this is an easy way to follow the flow of the Battle, what major event happened on each day and because Death is the great leveller the 18th November is treated in the same manner as the 1st of July. The final day of the Battle brought casualties even if not in the same number as the first day.

Many of the tales of the last few hours of the subjects of this book come from reports of survivors who saw the person killed or mortally wounded; however, there are many where the last is that they were seen to be OK in such and such a place but were never seen again after that. Many of those killed were originally buried in the place they died and these makeshift graves often became casualties themselves of the fighting with grave sites being obliterated by bombardment and bodies being lost. There are thousands of names of men who were never found again, or if they were, were unidentifiable. All of these have been remembered though with the majority of names on the Thiepval memorial.

The Postscript reminds us that this Battle brought a savagery and blood-letting never seen before and not since and the author writes “and never will see the likes of again” – I do hope she is correct.

A sombre, informative and worthy reminiscence of the Battle of the Somme and for those who are drawn to this Battle by its savagery and its impact on the British Army will be well served by having this on their bookshelf as a good reference book and a reminder of the sacrifices made during those 141 Days.

For the way this book is presented and for the reasons for its publication I give this one 5/5 Mr MRHs

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