British troops go over the top on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme July 1st 1916 was the most interesting day of my life, Philip Howe recalled, with characteristic English dryness, half a century after taking part in the most catastrophic 24 hours in the history of the British army. Howe had been a lieutenant in the 10th West Yorkshires, which had the grim distinction of losing more men during the first day on the Somme than any other battalion: of the 1,050 that went into battle, 710 became casualties, 60 per cent of whom were killed. At the end of the day Howe was the only officer left standing, and many other battalions had suffered almost as badly.
The 1st Newfoundlanders lost 684 men, including all 26 of their officers, and the 11th East Lancashires, known as the Accrington Pals, suffered over 80 per cent casualties within minutes of the attack being launched: it was said that it had taken a mere ten days to raise the battalion and a mere ten minutes to annihilate it. In all some 120,000 men went over the top on that fine summer s day in France, of whom 19,240 were killed, and another 38,231 were wounded, reported missing or taken prisoner. On a 16-mile front of attack varying fortune must be expected!
wrote Sir Douglas Haig, whose battle-plan had resulted in this calamity. The reasons for everything going so terribly wrong have become familiar. The Allies had failed to keep the date and details of their surprise attack secret, with the result that the Germans were well prepared for the heaviest bombardment in the history of warfare that would immediately precede it.
Although ferocious, this assault by the artillery failed to destroy the German front line, not least because a high proportion of the shells turned out to be duds. The German troops, whose numbers had been hopelessly underestimated, sat it out in their very deep and well-fortified dugouts, then emerged as soon as the bombardment was over to set up their machine guns. The British troops, each man weighed down by a wholly unnecessary 66 pounds of equipment, staggered out of their trenches and, as instructed, began walking (rather than running) in long lines (rather than safer formations) towards the German front line.
Advancing into such firepower took unimaginable discipline and courage: the Newfoundlanders instinctively tucked their chins into an advanced shoulder as they had done so often when fighting their way home in a blizzard . The soldiers presented such easy targets that it took just one gunner to wipe out the Accrington Pals. The Somme lives on in the collective memory, symbolising for many people the tragedy and wastefulness of the first world war.
As its centenary approaches, there will no doubt be many other books on the subject, and one assumes Andrew Roberts is publishing his account this year rather than next in order to get in ahead of everyone else. The classic account of this disaster remains Martin Middlebrook s The First Day on the Somme , published in 1971. Middlebrook was not a professional historian, but a Lincolnshire farmer who had been prompted to write his book after seeing the war cemeteries of the Western Front.
Elegy is constructed like Middlebrook s book, with chapters on strategy, tactics and preparation leading up to the pivotal Zero Hour , though Roberts extends his narrative to provide an analysis of the lessons learned from the battle and the Somme s significance in the chronology of the war. Although Middlebrook drew on official histories and contemporary newspapers, memoirs and other literary representations, what made his book both pioneering and hauntingly eloquent was his use of the oral testimony of those like Philip Howe who had taken part in the battle. The list of veterans who contributed to his book runs to more than ten closely printed pages, but these men are no longer here to bear witness.
The last surviving person to have gone into action on 1 July 1916, Pte Charles Holman of the 1st Essex Regiment, died in January 2002 at the age of 103. Deprived of this source, Roberts instead makes occasional and effective use of written testimony kept at the Imperial War Museum, but his book is largely a synthesis of secondary sources. Although there is nothing wrong with this in principle, particularly when it is done with Roberts s skill, it sometimes leads him astray.
For example, he quotes a farewell letter that he says Lt Malcolm White wrote to his family in the early hours of the morning of the attack, giving the source as Richard Van Emden s Tommy s War (2014). Readers may be puzzled by White addressing his family as Man , but had Roberts gone to what was presumably Van Emden s source, a memoir and collection of White s letters published in 1919, he would realise that his quotation in fact runs two letters together, one indeed written to his family, but the other written to a friend hence the Man . He would also have seen that the letters were written not on the morning of the attack but two days before it, and he would not have described White, who was eight months short of his 30th birthday, as being in his mid-twenties .
Roberts also writes several times of the part played on the Somme by the future poet laureate, Cecil Day-Lewis , who would have been 12 years old at the time. Once again, had Roberts gone to the original source, the celebrated pilot Cecil Lewis s Sagittarius Rising (1936) which is after all one of the great classics of the war and still in print rather than merely relying upon quotations from it in Robert Cowley s The Great War (2004), he would not have committed this embarrassing howler, which an editor should certainly have picked up. The book also contains some surprising errors.
Some of these, such as misspelling the nickname of the captain who famously led his men into action kicking a football, or getting wrong the rank of the luckless Canadian soldier shot dead two minutes before the Armistice, are relatively trivial. It does, however, seem astonishing that Roberts appears to believe that those British soldiers executed for desertion and cowardice during the war have not been granted a posthumous pardon: they were, back in 2006, and now have their own striking Shot at Dawn memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Elegy does, however, have compensating virtues.
It is always highly readable, gives a succinct and cohesive overview of the day, and is hearteningly even-handed. While not entirely exonerating Haig, for example, Roberts points out that many of the general s much-criticised decisions were the result of bad advice and poor intelligence. Nor does he lose sight of the men on the ground who were directly affected by these decisions, as many military historians do: like Churchill s in The World Crisis 1911 1918 , his account ends with a paean to the heroism of those ordinary men who died in their thousands.
These deaths, he argues, forced the British army to learn how to win the first world war , and lessons learned from the battle undoubtedly contributed to the spectacular military successes of 1918.
That said, anyone who has been to the battlefield, which is now a patchwork of war cemeteries dominated by Lutyens s vast Monument to the Missing of the Somme, might question his conclusion that The sacrifice of 1 July 1916 had at last been justified .
Available from the Spectator Bookshop 1 , 18 Tel: 08430 600033 This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 5 September 2015 2 Tags: Andrew Roberts , Book review – military history , hurchill , Martin Middlebrook , Peter Parker , Sir Douglas Haig , Somme , the first world war , Winston 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 References ^ Spectator Bookshop (spectatorbookshop.tbphost.co.uk) ^ 5 September 2015 (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Andrew Roberts (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Book review – military history (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ hurchill (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Martin Middlebrook (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Peter Parker (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Sir Douglas Haig (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Somme (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ the first world war (www.spectator.co.uk) ^ Winston (www.spectator.co.uk)
Her Majesty The Queen has awarded the title Royal to the Bermuda Regiment with effect from today the 50th Anniversary 1 of its amalgamation and the Regiment will now be known as the Royal Bermuda Regiment. Speaking today at Warwick Camp, Governor George Fergusson said, This is terrific news. This is a real honour and mark of recognition for the Regiment.
These things are not at all automatic: it s a real award, recognising not only the Regiment s contribution to Bermuda since its formation but also its support to countries and Territories in the Caribbean. It is also very specifically a recognition of the contribution and sacrifices made by its predecessor units, the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps in two World Wars, and units before that. Members of the Regiment, past and present, have every reason to be proud at this award.
The formal announcement read, Her Majesty The Queen has graciously agreed to the award of the title Royal to the Bermuda Regiment to mark 50 years of dedicated and loyal service to The Crown and its forbears dedicated and loyal service dating back to 1612. By Her Majesty s Command the new title is effective from the Regiment s Golden Jubilee on 1 September 2015. The announcement comes on the Anniversary of the formal amalgamation 2 of the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Rifles on 1 September 1965.
The Regiment will be known as the Royal Bermuda Regiment RBR. It is not expected that costs will be incurred as a result of the change. Changes to insignia, badges etc will be made as new items are required, ordered or manufactured, the Regiment said.
The Regiment s Commanding Officer Lt Col M Foster-Brown, who is currently off island, sent the following comments of support: I am thrilled and delighted at the honour which recognizes the long and distinguished service of the Regiment.
This Distinction is particularly appropriate on our golden anniversary and is the best birthday present we could have hoped for. #MilitaryAndRegiment #Regiment50th 3 4 Category : All , News 5 6 References ^ 50th Anniversary (bernews.com) ^ Anniversary of the formal amalgamation (bernews.com) ^ #MilitaryAndRegiment (bernews.com) ^ #Regiment50th (bernews.com) ^ View all posts in All (bernews.com) ^ View all posts in News (bernews.com)
The Bermuda Regiment 1 today celebrates its 50th birthday, 2 as September 1 marks the day the Island s modern armed service was created out of the Bermuda Militia Artillery BMA and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps BVRC. And Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col Michael Foster-Brown said the Regiment would continue to have its sights fixed on the future as well as celebrating its rich history. Col Foster-Brown added, The reach of the Regiment is far and wide with over 11,000 Regimental numbers having been issued and we re conscious that the success of the Regiment has been built on those who have served before us, so the reunion theme of the year long series of celebrations is very appropriate.
Bermuda Regiment Queen s Birthday Parade in 1966, photo courtesy of Bermuda Regiment Col Foster Brown said the delivery of British Army issue SA-80 rifles earlier this month, which will replace the ageing current issue Mini Ruger 14s, some of which are 30 years old, was a visible sign of the progress and investment in the Regiment. He added, These alone will make a big difference to our capabilities. Col Foster Brown said that a new State Partnership Programme with the US National Guard and the training of soldiers as Special Constables alongside the Bermuda Police Service would further enhance the Regiment s ability to perform its disaster relief and internal security roles.
He added, This going forward will offer the Regiment exchanges and support, even more training opportunities. The Regiment has already put on a series of events to celebrate its golden anniversary under the BR50 banner and more are planned including an international military tattoo to be held in October and a home coming service at Warwick Camp on Sunday, September 20. Col Foster-Brown added, We ve also had the honour of being awarded the Freedom of St George s and we look forward to the Freedom of Hamilton in November.
And a special open night for potential recruits to the Regiment, which had a record number of volunteers last year, will be held next month on Saturday, September 19. Briefing on Front Street during 1977 riots. Left to right Lt.
Col. Brendan Hollis 2/Lt. Rick Barton, 2/Lt.
Allan Rance, 2/Lt. Wendell Hollis, Capt. John Bento Col Foster Brown added, More and more people are choosing stay in the Regiment so we can make the next Recruit Camp smaller, which opens up the prospect of an all-volunteer Recruit Camp for the first time.
Anyone interested a fun, rewarding, adventurous and challenging experience as a soldier is invited to attend. And he said, We argue Regiment service makes people better citizens and better employees as it develops self-discipline, teamwork and leadership skills. I believe that if two people apply for a job and one has Regiment service they will have an advantage because he or she has proved they are reliable, hardworking and can deal with new challenges.
He added that soldiers also benefited from opportunities for overseas travel and free bus and ferry travel. He said, They also get discounts in a large range of stores a way businesses kindly show their appreciation of what the Regiment does. That was self-evident last October when the Regiment helped get the country back on its feet again after the hurricanes.
Col Foster-Brown added that soldiers leaving service also get a testimonial outlining the skills and qualities they have developed. And he said, We are intensely proud of our traditions and those of our predecessor Regiments, which saw service in two World Wars, but we re not resting on our laurels. The Regiment is trained, adaptable and ready to handle whatever the next 50 years throws at us.
We have much to celebrate and I thank serving and former soldiers for their service, dedication and loyalty. The modern Regiment preserves the golden thread linking military units on the Island from the first days of colonisation to the formation of the BMA and the BVRC in 1895 and beyond, the Regiment said. Other units were raised at various times, including the Bermuda Militia Infantry BMI, Bermuda Home Guard and Bermuda Volunteer Engineers BVE.
Both the BMA and the BVRC served overseas in both World Wars with many soldiers from both units paying the ultimate price. The BMA served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and the BVRC served in the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in World War I, with more than 100 Bermudian troops losing their lives. Battle honours were earned throughout the European campaign and many were conspicuous in their service, with Bermuda s soldiers earning, amongst other commendations, the Military Medal.
During the Second World War the BMA were the Bermuda Contingent of the 1st Caribbean Regiment which served in North Africa and Europe. The BVRC served as a company in the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment in Britain and Europe. Of the 184 Bermudians serving overseas, 35 died.
Many were highly decorated for their valour, including a George Cross. At home, the BMI and BVE, along with those who remained of the BVRC and BMA, guarded the Island. The BMA were re-equipped and trained as infantry in 1953 although they retained their Royal Artillery allegiance, uniform and badge.
But, along with the social changes of the 1950s and 1960s, the two units were poised for change. The BMA and what was by then the Bermuda Rifles officially became one in a ceremony on November 23, 1965 and the amalgamated infantry battalion adopted the histories and characteristics of the predecessor units, although battle honours were not carried forward to the Colours and drums of the Regiment. The Regiment saw service in civil disturbances in the first 15 years of its life and has been regularly embodied to support civil authorities after hurricane strikes twice in the space of a week last year after Hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo hit in quick succession.
Bermuda Regiment training at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina earlier this year: Lt Col Eugene Raynor, now Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, signed up with the BMA in 1961, was commissioned in 1964 and was one of the modern force s first officers on amalgamation. Col Raynor rose to command the Regiment between 1980-84 its first black Commanding Officer. He said, The outward appearances have changed several times, in terms of size but the systems haven t really changed.
That s a good thing since from the start, Recruit Camp has been very effective. The role hasn t changed either, but the things we do to maintain that role have changed slightly in the terms of the details of internal security training. It s been progressive.
Another thing to influence that is our personnel change-over so regularly.
And we re always being kept up to date by people seconded to us by the British Army.
But Col Raynor added, Our traditions have been maintained to the greatest extent and maintained well. #BermudaHistory #MilitaryAndRegiment #Regiment50th 3 4 5 Category : All , History , News 6 7 8 References ^ Bermuda Regiment (bernews.com) ^ 50th birthday, (bernews.com) ^ #BermudaHistory (bernews.com) ^ #MilitaryAndRegiment (bernews.com) ^ #Regiment50th (bernews.com) ^ View all posts in All (bernews.com) ^ View all posts in History (bernews.com) ^ View all posts in News (bernews.com)
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