July 1st 2016, and more specifically 7:30am, marks the start of one of the biggest battles of World War I, and the bloodiest in history, the Battle of the Somme in an area around the Belgian town of Ypres a century ago.
Not strictly connected with this particular battle, this poem by Canadian soldier and poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae from Guelp, Ontario, tells of the sacrifices of the soldiers on the front line. It was written the year before after the funeral of a friend who died in battle in the same area where the Battle of the Somme was to take place.
Poignantly the closing minutes of British comedy series Blackadder Goes Fourth depicts the young soldiers, many of them still teenagers, going over the top to face a barrage of machine gun fire.
Just to keep a musical theme, here’s the final track from Motörhead’s 1991 album 1916. The lyrics are well worth a read.
16 years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled
And I died & I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time, That a year in the line,
Was a long enough life for a soldier,
We all volunteered,
And we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history’s pages,
And we brawled and we fought
And we whored ’til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun,
We were food for the gun, and that’s
What you are when you’re soldiers,
I heard my friend cry,
And he sank to his knees, coughing blood
As he screamed for his mother
And I fell by his side,
And that’s how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud
And the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother
And she never came,
Though it wasn’t my fault
And I wasn’t to blame,
The day not half over
And ten thousand slain, and now
There’s nobody remembers our names
And that’s how it is for a soldier.