Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ten Quotes About the Battle of the Somme

With the 99th anniversary of the famous battle coming in two weeks on 1 July, I've dug through the files and found some of the more memorable things said of the event. I found it hard, though, to find anything matching Kipling's poignant, "A Garden called Gethsemane, in Picardy it was. . . 

The River Somme

1. Before the world grew mad, the Somme was a placid stream of Picardy, flowing gently through a broad and winding valley northwards to the English Channel. It watered a country of simple beauty. . . Then came the pestilence.
A.D. Gristwood

2.  Every Englishman has a picture of the Somme in his mind, and I will not try to enlarge it.
A.P. Herbert

3.  The literature of 1 July 1916 is endless. Salutary at first, a proper corrective to the streams of propaganda claptrap about "laughing heroes" and "the Great Adventure" which had previously gushed forth, after a time it developed into a most mischievous mythology.
John Terraine 

Depiction of the 1 July 1916 Attack

4.  Devonshires Held This Trench, the Devonshires Hold It Still
Marker, Devonshire Cemetery

5.  South of the Ancre was a broad-backed high ground, and on that ground a black vapour of smoke and naked tree trunks or charcoal, an apparition which I found was called Thiepval Wood. The Somme indeed!
Edmund Blunden

6.  During my whole life I have not found a happier hunting ground than in the course of the Somme Battle. In the morning, as soon as I had got up, the first Englishmen arrived, and the last did not disappear until long after sunset.  Boelcke once said that this was the El Dorado of the flying men.
Manfred von Richthofen

7.  It seemed all over, hardly 20 minutes from the start. It was a strong point and still was, even with reinforcements it would be hopeless, with those sodding machine guns still in action. Behind we could see where we started from, in front, the Jerry lines on slightly rising ground. We could see the shape of the Quadrilateral, like a squashed diamond, behind the bank. Judging by the damned chatter when we were going over, a hidden machine gun at every point. Quiet enough now, they had already done all the damage, not giving their position away now, leaving the Jerries in the line to do the odd firing.
Harry Leedham

8.  Idealism perished on the Somme.
A.J. P. Taylor

9.  The tragedy of the Somme battle was that the best soldiers, the stoutest-hearted men were lost; their numbers were replaceable, their spiritual worth never could be.
Unidentified German Soldier

10.  It's the end of the 1916 winter and the conditions are almost unbelievable. We live in a world of Somme mud. We sleep in it, work in it, fight in it, wade in it and many of us die in it. We see it, feel it, eat it and curse it, but we can't escape it, not even by dying.
Edward Lynch


  1. "The British Army that advanced so confidently on the 1st of July was a citizen army, only half trained to war. The survivors in mid November were veterans who could have discussed the military profession as equals with their ancestors who had passed through all the South African, the Crimean or the Peninsular campaigns. As the final test of a new weapon must be the battlefield, so also is the battlefield the only furnace wherein are forged the armies of victory. It was the survivors of the Somme who two years later formed the backbone of the force that smashed the Hindenburg line and drove the invaders off the soil of France .

    The German Army, on the other hand, came into battle not with the courage of ignorance but with the confidence of knowledge. The world has never seen a more highly trained and perfectly disciplined machine. From birth every German had been taught to think himself a soldier, he had been fed from childhood on the glorious traditions of Sadowa and Sedan , he had been trained from youth in the exercise of arms, and the military supremacy of Germany had been with him the first article of faith.

    On the Somme they were not taken by surprise; they had had full time to prepare the fortifications behind which they awaited the coming onslaught, and the elaboration, ingenuity and intricacy of those earthworks marked a new epoch in trench warfare. Even Germany could produce no finer soldiers than the men who manned them. Yet after a bombardment such as they had never imagined they found themselves driven at the point of the bayonet out of positions they had believed impregnable. Fighting fiercely, disputing every inch of the ground, inflicting fearful punishment upon the foe, they were none the less compelled to relinquish the trenches they had sworn they would hold to the last. Falkenhayn had given orders that "not a foot's breadth of ground must be abandoned". Von Below had laid down that "only over our dead bodies may the enemy advance". And for the German soldier the result of the Somme was not the loss of a few lines of trenches nor the bitterness of temporary defeat; it was the end of a great tradition, it was the bankruptcy of a religious faith: Two instances were brought to Haig's notice of German officers who, being prisoners, had attempted to commit suicide - a fact of profound significance."

    Duff Cooper.

    Captain Von Hentig of the Guards Reserve Division said of the Somme:

    'It was the muddy grave of the German Field Army'

    ( Hentig, Hans v.: Psychologische Strategie des großen Krieges. — Heidelberg: Winter 1927.)

  2. Your quote from Harry Needham. Would that be 2nd Lieutenant, Harry Needham Laing of the Yorkshire Regiment? Was it written in a letter home?

    1. Hi,

      Your question sent me to checking my sources and to my embarrassment, I discovered I had incorrectly spelled Harry's last name. It's Leedham and he served with the Leicestershire's at the Somme. He kept a sketch book and diary. You can find out more about him here:

    2. Thank you very much for the clarification!

  3. This is a brilliant writing and very pleased to find this site. I couldn’t discover to much different information on your blog. I will surely be back again to look at some other important posts that you have in future.

  4. Amazing quotes love it Thank you for a great collection
    Alia Khan

  5. Great Collection of Quotes. You have worked Beautifully.

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  7. Nice quotes but what does it mean when the quote said but we can't escape it, not even by dying. How can’t they escape the war by dying.

    1. I assume he meant that they cannot escape the Somme mud even by dying because most dead soldiers were buried there in mass graves