BLTC Press Titles

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Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Battle of the Somme

by John Buchan


HE point of view of the hill-top was not that of the men in the front trenches. The cross

ing of the parapets is the supreme moment in modern war. The troops are outside defences, moving across the open to investigate the unknown. It is the culmination of months of training for officers and men, and the least sensitive feels the drama of the crisis. Most of the British troops engaged had twenty months before been employed in peaceable civilian trades. In their ranks were every class and condition—miners from north England, factory hands from the industrial centres, clerks and shopboys, ploughmen and shepherds, Saxon and Celt, college graduates and dock labourers, men who in the wild places of the earth had often faced danger, and men whose chief adventure had been a Sunday bicycle ride. Nerves may be attuned to the normal risks of trench warfare and yet shrink from the desperate hazard of a charge into the enemy's line.

But to one who visited the front before the attack the most vivid impression was that of quiet cheerfulness. There were no shirkers and few who wished themselves elsewhere. One man's imagination might be more active than another's, but the will to fight, and to fight desperately, was universal. With the happy gift of the British soldier they had turned the ghastly business of war into something homely and familiar. Accordingly they took everything as part of the day's work, and awaited the supreme moment without heroics and without tremor, confident in themselves, confident in their guns, and confident in the triumph of their cause. There was no savage lust of battle, but that far more formidable thing—a resolution which needed no rhetoric to support it. Norfolk's words were true of every man of them:

"As gentle and as jocund as to jest
Go I to fight. Truth hath a quiet breast." *

* A letter written before the action by a young officer gives expression to this joyful resolution. He fell in the first day's battle and the letter was posted after his death:—

"I am writing this letter to you just before going into action to-morrow morning about dawn.

"I am about to take part in the biggest battle that has yet been fought in France, and one which ought to help to end the war very quickly.

"I never felt more confident or cheerful in my life before, and would not miss the attack for anything on earth. The men are in splendid form, and every officer and man is more happy and cheerful than I have ever seen them. I have

The British aim in this, the opening stage of the battle, was the German first position. The attached map shows its general line. In the section of assault, running from north to south, it covered Gommecourt, passed east of Hebuterne, followed the high ground in front of Serre and Beaumont Hamel, and crossed the Ancre a little to the north-west of Thiepval. It ran in front of Thiepval, which was very strongly fortified, east of Authuille, and just covered the hamlets of Ovillers and La Boisselle. There it ran about a mile and a quarter east of Albert. It then passed south round the woodland village of

just been playing a rag game of football in which the umpire had a revolver and a whistle.

"My idea in writing this letter is in case I am one of the 'costs,' and get killed. I do not expect to be, but such things have happened, and are always possible.

"It is impossible to fear death out here when one is no longer an individual, but a member of a regiment and of an army. To be killed means nothing to me, and it is only you who suffer for it; you really pay the cost.

"I have been looking at the stars, and thinking what an immense distance they are away. What an insignificant thing the loss of, say, 40 years of life is compared with them! It seems scarcely worth talking about.

"Well, good-bye, you darlings. Try not to worry about it, and remember that we shall meet again really quite soon.

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