Tag Archives: The Somme


This article was originally published on Subrosa Blonde Blog and is reproduced here with permissions.

The BBC have been heavily advertising their new shiny two-episode Birdsong programme based on the book by Sebastian Faulkes. The adverts showed a few scenes and looked interesting but I wasn’t convinced. I’d hoped that Spielberg might have picked it up or Saul Zaentz the producer of films like The English Patient, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, The unbearable lightness of being etc.

Zaentz could produce a film, heavy on the romantic side and treated with respect and care. Spielberg could bring realism to it as he previously did with “Saving Private Ryan”. If that film was about anything at all it was about the true horror of war rather than the censored versions we’ve been spoon-fed.

I just wasn’t sure I should watch it. What if it was a poor reflection of the book? What if the story was diluted? What if, what if, what if? It’s one of my top ten favourite books and I have the greatest of respect for the men who fought and were slaughtered in action during the First World War.

I decided to watch it. I thought I could stop if it wasn’t to my liking. However, I was pleasantly surprised, it wasn’t bad. Not as “real’ and the romantic part wasn’t overdone, so far so good.

Having the Great War brought back to the fore as it were, has reminded me of two things; the poetry created by the likes of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brook to name but three. I really must go and visit the War Poets Collection at the Craiglockhart Campus of Napier University. Owen and Sassoon were there during the war when it was a hospital.

The other thing it has reminded me off is that for all the cost in human terms that “the war to end all wars” was supposed to be we just haven’t learned the lesson. Here we are almost a hundred years down the road and there has rarely been a gap between conflicts. The recent Iraq and Afghanistan actions reinforced the incompetence of the MOD and the failings in the services procurement system. Soldiers’ lives have been lost as a consequence. Vehicles were inadequate in the protection they were supposed to provide, costing young men their lives. Body armour being shared rather than being available to all, again cost lives. The Americans do things slightly differently. They aim to send their forces out with the weapons and kit significantly better than the enemy. They’ve just started rolling out a gun which fires a grenade accurately over long distances and can then be detonated at a point chosen by the person firing it. They can now hit targets hiding behind walls barricades etc. A game changer apparently although war is only a game if it’s played on a PlayStation or X-box.

Unfortunately our sabre-rattling politicians are lining up the next conflict. Iran. Like we need another conflict.

Men and women sign up to join the forces. When they join up and take the Queens shilling they can expect to see action but they should also be protected and only put in danger if it is the last resort. Even then they should have the best kit, if they don’t have the best kit or even appropriate kit for the job they should not be put in danger.

Most incriminating of all of our various governments over the years however, is that if our forces are injured they should get the best treatment possible and if their injury means they need care and support for the rest of their lives the state should pay, ending the reliance on charity which is an insulting way to treat our service men and women. The state should also provide a reasonable level of financial support to the partner and children left behind if a life is lost and this should continue as long as it is needed.

War, conflict or whatever name people wish to call it is disgusting and inhumane, the way our forces and their dependents are treated should never be disgusting and inhumane; when planning the Scottish Defence Force Alex could do well to bear that in mind.

I don’t think the Scottish people want our forces involved in any conflicts, perhaps Alex should seek a mandate from the Scottish people, it’s far too important a decision for him or his government to take on their own?


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I Forget

At 11:00 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the guns fell silent and the Great War came to an end. The mass slaughter on the battlefield ended and the soldiers on all sides could at last give thanks to their gods and to their luck that they had survived. However, things are never as simple as they seem. Whilst humanity had been very efficient in killing so many, nature also took a hand in things and number of dead made many times worse.

The Great War cost the lives of 8.5 Million and wounded a further 21 Million with 57% of those who took part either killed or wounded. In one sad day on the 1st July 1916 the battle of the Somme claimed 57,470 British Army casualties of which 19,240 were killed or died of wounds. The shame of these numbers should never be forgotten.

At this time every year I think about those poor men who served in the First World War. That’s not to belittle the memory of any other soldier of any other conflict, It’s just, for me, The First World War was the most cruel, most horrific and the most wasteful of any war.

I’ll never be able to understand what it must have felt like to serve in battle. To wait your turn to be ordered to do something so dangerous it may well cost you your life and the courage that needed is just so immense it’s impossible to imagine.

You are sitting in your trench waiting to hear the whistle and be ordered to “go over the top”. The noise of the artillery barrage is so intense it blots out all real thought. You feel fear; you’ve written your letter to your loved ones in case you don’t make it back. No matter how frightened you are you have to do it. It’s do it or get shot. Get shot by your own side or get shot by the other side.

You hear the whistles and the shouting from the trench just in front of yours. The first line jump up and start to walk, no running of course, a safe distance behind the rolling barrage. They walk ever closer to the enemies trench in the near distance. You watch them go, You watch as they begin to fall. Machine gun fire rakes along the line of men back and forward and still they walk and still they fall. Artillery shells and grenades explode amongst them. Screams lost within the noise of battle.

Then it’s your turn. Jump up and walk. You won’t even hear the noise of the bullet until after you’re hit if it hasn’t killed you. You wait for it to happen. If you get hit you hope it will be a wound serious enough to get you out of here and home. You dread the wound, which knocks you down and leaves you to die slowly or makes you fall into mud and drown or be covered in enough earth to bury you forever. You might lie there wounded for hours waiting for the dark and the chance of rescue.

Towards the end of the war casualties increased without a bullet being fired. A real Pandemic, a pernicious flu, claimed the lives of large numbers of troops and the medical staff tending them. The flu added 250,000 UK population deaths to the number of dead from the First World War. Millions died all over the world mostly from the 25-40 year old age group.

Which brings me to I Forget.

Ivano Forget, a French Canadian, died from the flu on the 30th October 1918 in the Craigleith Military Hospital. He had been brought from France, along with many more wounded and seriously ill Canadians to hospitals all over the UK.

I noticed his headstone when I was out walking one Sunday a couple of years ago. I was using the cemetery at Seafield as a shortcut since I’d been walking for hours and had gone much further than intended. The military section of the Cemetery was a surprise to me and more so because of the number of Canadian graves there.

It seems such a waste of life to have fit young men and women fight for their country. It is unfortunately necessary at times for this to be the case. But to have contracted a deadly flu virus when serving and die as a result seems particularly unfair whilst involved in a war, which was so deadly to begin with.

So today I’ll remember the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect others. I’ll remember the soldiers of the First World War and Ivano Forget in particular.


Posted by on November 11, 2011 in General


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