On 1st July 1916 one of the bloodiest battles of WWI commenced, a five month long fight on the banks of the Somme river in Northern France. By the time the Battle of the Somme finally ended on November 18th, one million French, British and German soldiers were dead.
It was a terrible time, and one of the worst blots on modern history, but as might be expected many stories of personal triumph were also played out on the battlefield, and it’s a time of fascinating history.
Over the years since many memoirs, accounts and historical references have been released from that time and so today we have 5 WWI books to read to mark the anniversary of the bloodiest battle in history.
Storm of Steel – Ernst Junger
Storm of Steel is widely considered to be the definitive WWI memoir from the German perspective. The book chronicles life on the front line and the author’s survival at the Battle of the Somme with haunting descriptions of trench warfare and exploding shells.
I’d also like to add that I am British, and the fact that I have chosen a German memoir to sit in the number one spot, speaks volumes of the progress made in European relations in recent years.
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulkes
Birdsong is possibly the most famous WWI novel ever written, and while not a true perspective, it captures the truths of the front line perfectly. This classic novel depicts the life of fictional soldier, Stephen Wraysford, and his traumatic experience of watching all of his comrades die at the Somme.
Regeneration – Pat Barker
Today we understand the horrors of war, and the terror of PTSD, but back in World War I a shellshock diagnosis didn’t always mean you got the care you deserved. A year after fighting in the Somme, Sassoon declares that war was hell, senseless violence, a declaration that got him diagnosed as mentally unsound. Barker’s novel, the first of a trilogy, depicts Sassoon in treatment and it’s very well done.
The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front – Peter Hart
As an oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, Hart is an expert on military history and this account of the darkest time of World War I, and possibly the darkest time in all of British military history is right on the money.
First Day on the Somme – Martin Middlebrook
First published in 1971, First Day on the Somme by historian Martin Middlebrook has never been out of print. The book draws from official sources, newspaper reports, autobiographies, novels and poems to describe the horrors of the largest battle of the First World War.
We would hope that nations would decide never to take that path again, that we have seen enough hate and suffering already in the world. Maybe military reading should be a must for all so we can appreciate the sacrifice made one hundred years ago.