The Somme & Verdun


The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered
By Julian Thompson
Andre Deutsch – £40.00

Nowadays, the Battle of the Somme is synonymous in Britain with disaster and the futility of war. This is because the huge casualties suffered by the British army appalled the British public, whose misreading of history persuaded them that Britain’s proper role in war was making a major contribution at sea, and that continental European allies should shoulder the larger part of the burden of engaging the enemy on land – and consequently suffer most of the losses.

From a political perspective, if 2016 will be remembered for anything, it will surely have to be the degree to which so much of the western, so-called, intelligent world, got it so horribly wrong.

A time when much of the British populace decided to turn the clock back to the dark ages. A time of us verses them. A place where rife, acute and open xenophobia appears to be actively promoted – if not applauded. While at the same time in Amerikkka, much of its populace voted for an arrogant, twisted, misogynist misfit, to embrace the most powerful office in the world – that of the White House this coming January.

A prospect which in and of itself, really, really, doesn’t bear worth thinking about.

Then of course, we have fully grown men, purposefully driving articulated lorries into crowds of innocent men, women and children – for the sake of some perverse, impossible notion of redemptive religiosity.

And lest we forget Aleppo.

The list goes on and unfortunately on; on to such a harrowing, nebulous degree, that one cannot help but wonder if mankind has actually learnt anything. Wasn’t two World Wars, The Holocaust, Vietnam, Northern Ireland and an infinite number of other, puerile killing sprees enough, from which to devise that killing one another – ultimately gets us no-where?

Obviously not.

This why I’ve chosen to conclude this terrible year with a review of Julian Thompson’s The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered.

Had the men – who so willingly/gallantly/unknowingly, and in hindsight, stupidly, sacrificed themselves – known what the world was going to emerge into a hundred years hence forth; with for example, the terrible, terrible, vile likes of Nigel Farrage, vehemently promoting what they actually died for, they may well have questioned hurtling themselves unto the barbed-razer-wire, of nigh certain death.

Containing rare removable documents, memorabilia, and an audio CD of veterans first-hand accounts, this most pensive assimilation of words, postcards home, diagrams and maps, is enough to stop one in ones’ own tracks. As in order to take some sort of macabre stock of what actually transpired a hundred years ago: ”Their expressions seemed frozen by a vision of terror; their gait and their postures betrayed a total dejection; they sagged beneath the weight of horrifying memories” (General Petain, remembering the men he had commanded at Verdun).

An overall assessment of an equally terrible year, this collection does a lot to drive home the folly and the futility of intrinsically hollow, disagreement; whereby death panders to yet more death, panders to yet more death, panders to yet further death.

An eye for some sort of eye.

The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered is a most humbling (literary) experience; another reminder of what should have been, what could have been: all those beautiful lives, wiped out.

And for what? King (Queen) and Country? Bollocks..

Merry Christmas.

David Marx


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