Twelve Days on the Somme

Twelve Days on the Somme

Sidney Rogerson
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Written in 1933 by Sidney Rogerson, a Company Commander in the West Yorks during WW1 because he was getting fed up of memoirs coming out at that time talking only of battles. He wrote 12 Days to illustrate what a ‘normal’ period in the front line was like for the ordinary infantryman and chose a period at the end of the Battle of the Somme.

The books is quite small, only 170pps and six Chapters which are basically split into three sections

  • Moving Up to the Trenches
  • Trench Holding and Relief
  • Coming out of the Line and Rest
Moving up concerns the Battalion receiving replacement men and officers and fitting them in to the Battalion/Company. Some were new and some were previously wounded/ill men returning. One point made is that, although this was a Yorkshire Battalion, many of the replacements were from the south of England and Cockney accents became more apparent. Informed that the line they will taking over is old German front line trenches which need a lot of work the Battalion will need to take a lot of trench stores with them to improve the trenches. The author then gives us a sketch he made of a man loaded down with his own equipment, and loads of trench equipment from ladders to extra ammo, to shovels etc. Quite a load!

The author goes up before the Battalion to recce the trench area they are taking over and talks about the mud that they have to struggle through. Clinging, cloying mud which slows down everyone making a journey of a few hundred yards last hours, sapping the energy of everyone. Eventually arriving with the Battalion they are relieving the author is taken round the area he will be responsible for. Basically, a stretch of line behind a ridge with an outpost forward over the ridge. Trenches, newly taken are in poor state and designed to face the British front line so need to be rebuilt. Also, the ground surrounding the area is littered with bodies of German and British soldiers from the previous fighting. Not a very cheerful place to be.

The Battalion comes up to the line, relieve the incumbent Battalion and settle in to build the trench system with communication trenches, observation posts and all the usual bits that need digging. Sidney then takes us through the life in the trenches with the Germans less that 100 yards to their front. Shells are lobbed over by both sides (some of the British ones dropping short!) and casualties happen, one of the strange points is the casual way in which casualties are dealt with emotionally. Almost casual, cold, matter of fact with little taking in to account that we are talking about a life. Mind you the book was written in 1933 so some of the pain will have worn off. One officer is sent out on patrol, get shelled and the officer sends back the patrol to safety – he is never seen again, Patrols are sent out to find him or his body but nothing is found. A mystery that remained even at the time of writing.

Much is made of rations and water. Water coming up in tins which previously held petrol so tasted terrible. The rum ration was a very important part of life and very welcome. Rations were boring and often had to be eaten cold as fires could not be lit in the trench, but ingenuity often found a way round that.

Towards the end of their time in the trenches they were told that there would be a barrage at such and such a time and not to worry. This of course meant that Sidney had his company stood to in case the Germans came over thinking this was an attack. What it was, was a diversion for an attack further up the line.

Coming to the end of their time in the line, they went through the same handover/takeover that they went through, albeit leaving the trenches in a much better stage. Back to the start point for some rest. The ‘rest’ turned out to be anything but with large fatigue parties detailed to carry pot pioneer work for the Royal Engineers, heavy work lasting all day. Finally they got movement orders and moved to a quiet area of the Front which brought us to the end of this 12 day sojourn to the Front Line.

A good book which is well written, in formative and very evocative of life in the trenches towards the end of the Battle of the Somme.

Well worth 4 Mr MRHs

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