July 3

The Somme: a reassessment

Field Marshal HaigBecause of the appalling losses suffered on the Somme, the battle has become a byword for military incompetence, according to a report on 1 July 2006 in the London Daily Mail.  In “Not such a senseless slaughter,” Laurence Rees, the creative director of BBC TV History, observes that the battle  is used as absolute proof of the argument proposed years ago by the late MP and historian Alan Clark that the First World War was the story of ‘lions led by donkeys’. It is given as justification for the lampooning of the overall British commander, Field Marshal Haig, in the TV comedy Blackadder as a blundering old fool who wanted to "move his drinks cabinet a few feet closer to Germany" over the dead bodies of the flower of Britain’s youth.

But, 90 years on, Laurence Rees asks, are we right to see the Somme in such a negative way? A powerful drama documentary, broadcast on BBC1 on 2 July 2006 is based on the latest academic research. It questions the popular assumption that the Battle of the Somme was an unmitigated disaster. According to Mr. Rees, it goes so far as to suggest that the Somme — bloody, wasteful and unimaginably awful as it was — proved so pivotal in the development of British warfare that, without it, we may never have won the Great War.

Let us hope that one of our broadcasters can find time in their programmes to show this attempt to re-assess an event of major significance in our history.

 


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