The lads in their hundreds…

As a subject, The Somme is huge – as immense as the Thiepval monument to the 72,000 missing, men who in many cases met their deaths within minutes of the start of the slaughter, fodder for the German guns, caught on German wire, or atomised by artillery bombardments.

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There’s hardly any more to be said. Words fail and figures speak for themselves.

  • 20,000 British and Empire dead on day one
  • 100,000 troops sent into battle along a fifteen mile front
  • A seven day preliminary bombardment designed to destroy German defences, firing 1.7 million shells
  • 625,000 Allied casualties in total; an estimated half a million German dead and injured
  • The almost total destruction of both the Newfoundland Regiment and the 10th West

Best, then, on the awful anniversary of Britain’s bloodiest battle, to perhaps do what we did on our visit to Thiepval a few weeks ago – to concentrate on someone, an individual, and to think of them, to find out a little of their lives in an attempt to make the massive massacre mean something, an attempt to better comprehend the incomprehensible.

So, to mark the anniversary, I’ll be listening, playing and singing the music of this man – George Butterworth, MC. Here he is, among those ‘intolerably nameless names’ on that huge monolith.

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He died, aged 31 on 5th August 1916, after leading his men of the 13th Durham Light Infantry in a successful assault of Munster Alley. Prior to the war he was a composer of immense promise. Here’s an example of his music, a more appropriate – and eerily prescient – tribute is hard to imagine…

They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

(A.E.Housman)

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