The families of Charles (24) and Harvey Lowe (26) learned that the brothers had perished on the Somme. They died in an enemy bombardment and (perhaps inevitably) their bodies were never identified. Poet and author, Edmund Blunden described in graphic terms the impact of the loss of a sibling under such circumstances. He recounted ‘gobbets of blackening flesh, the earth-wall spotted with blood, with flesh, the eye under the duckboard, the pulpy bone’. To make matters worse the dead man’s brother came round the corner and saw what had happened; ‘he was sent to company headquarters in a kind of catalepsy.’ More than two dozen sets of brothers are named on the Battle of the Somme’s memorial to the missing at Thiepval.
4th August - FIRST TOURISTS VISIT THE SOMME
On the 4th August 1916, Australian forces were battling to secure the fortress village of Pozieres. A couple of miles behind the fighting, Brigadier General John Charteris, was being driven in a staff car when he encountered two young women walking towards the fighting. When challenged they asserted that they wanted to visit a front line unit and see what it was like to be under fire. Charteris put them in his car and drove them back the way they had come, warning them ‘not to be naughty in future’!
6th August - KICK OFF
By 1916 the football leagues had been suspended and around 2,000 professional players were in uniform. Of the 284 who fell in the conflict, 73 died on the Somme. Evelyn Lintott, an English international was killed on the first day of the Somme battle as were three players from Heart of Midlothian. Footballer Donald Bell – the only professional footballer to earn a V.C. – was also killed in this battle. A strange tale concerns Dickie Bond an England international who served with the Bradford Pals. So good was German intelligence and such was his fame that shouts were often heard from the enemy trenches such as “We know Dickie Bond’s in the front line!” Bond finished the war as a P.O.W. during which time he is reputed to have played football for the German army.
9th August - FIRST OF TWO V.C’S FOR OLYMPIC ATHLETE
The only soldier to win Britain’s highest bravery award twice during the Great War was Captain Noel Chavasse. The London Scottish medical officer was also a talented athlete who had represented Britain in the 400m at the Olympic Games in 1908. Chavasse was the son of a Bishop and his bravery and selflessness is the stuff of legends. In August 1916, during the Somme offensive, he attended to the wounded all day, under heavy fire, frequently in full view of the enemy. Night time restricted but did not stop his efforts to find and treat the injured and it is estimated that he saved around 20 men. The following year, during the Battle of Passchendaele, working in an almost identical manner, Chavasse was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper.
12th August - FROSTY RECEPTION FOR ‘GERMAN’ KING
The photograph above was taken in the last months of peace and shows Kaiser Wilhelm II with his cousin George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. George (better known as King George V) is wearing the uniform of Field Marshall in the German Army and this helps explain why the British monarch was given a frosty reception when he inspected his troops during the Battle of the Somme. Not only was King George V German but so too was his wife who, although she spoke excellent English, did so with a pronounced German accent. Inevitably, when massive casualty lists were published, the Royal Family became scapegoats with criticism also heaped on their noble German relatives who frequented the palace. Eventually change came and the ruling House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the House of Windsor.
14th August - WOUNDED AND ALONE – APART FROM...
Several serving M.P.’s fought in the Battle of the Somme. Two of these were future Prime Minsters Anthony Eden (1955 – 57) and his successor Harold Macmillan (pictured). While crossing No-man’s land the latter was wounded in the pelvis and lay unattended for a day. He kept his mind off his injuries by reading a Greek play – in Greek. McMillan recorded in his diary at the time; “The stench from the dead bodies which lie in heaps around is awful,” but in letters home he kept the tone positive to reassure his mother. For example he wrote, “Do not worry about me. I am very happy; it is a great experience, psychologically so interesting as to fill one’s thoughts.”
16th August - A ROYAL VISITOR
The Battle of the Somme attracted worldwide attention and Field Marshall Haig’s diaries contain long lists of visitors and the various compliments they paid him (though little mention of the horrendous losses the British army was sustaining). The dignitary illustrated is King Nicholas of Montenegro who brought with him a bag of medals which he awarded to virtually every British soldier he encountered. It is said that the King had fallen on hard times since being ousted by Austrian forces and was forced to borrow money wherever he could – always forgetting to repay it!
20th August - BIGGER THAN STAR WARS
In August and September 1916, 20 million people – nearly half the U.K. population - flocked to see a film that was not only a box office smash but a phenomenon. This silent epic did not feature Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton but Tommy Atkins - the ordinary British soldier. The film was called ‘The Battle of the Somme’ and comprised actual footage from the offensive that was still raging in France. Cameramen such as Geoffrey Malins (shown) had been sent to the Somme to record a great triumph but even though the images he shot told a different story, the government determined that this too had propaganda value. When the film was shown, audiences revealed all manner of emotions. Frequently women would scream and faint at seeing (or appearing to see) loved ones – many of whom were already dead.
29th August - A “DESPERATE INNOVATION”
On the 29th August 1916 the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London wrote to General Haig wishing him luck in battle with “this rather desperate innovation”. Prototypes of this ‘innovation’ had left England earlier that month well shielded from prying eyes and labelled ‘Water tanks for Mesopotamia’. The name ‘tank’ would soon replace the term ‘landship’ and when these metal monsters went into battle on the Somme, the world was agog. Many on the General staff would continue to champion the use of cavalry, but the introduction of the tank introduced a new era in modern warfare.