Author explores heroism, successes and ‘semi-victories’ in Battle of the Somme

British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 a

British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive. Picture: PA/EMPICS - Credit: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

A Hampstead author’s new book explores the impact of the Battle of the Somme, on the 100th anniversary of the World War One conflict.

Historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore - Credit: Archant

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore set out to expose new research on breakthroughs made by the French and British armies during the battle, and challenge common perceptions of the Battle as stoic endurance of the trenches and overarching failure of the British military.

He told the Ham&High: “It was an overall failure, but within that there were individual successes, semi-victories, and instances of heroism.

“It is true that the generals made a lot of mistakes, but they also almost won.”

The Battle of the Somme was a battle of the First World War fought between the French and British armies against the Germans, between July 1 and November 18, 1916.

The Battle signifies a landmark in popular memory as one of the costliest battles of the war. British casualties on the first day were the worst in the history of the British army, with 57,470 soldiers killed.

Although the losses were high, Mr Sebag-Montefiore argues that “there is an underlying positive message,” and that is the fact that not only did the Battle form a crucial part of a military learning process but it also “ripped out the heart of the German Army”.

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Going through the Red Cross files in Australia and New Zealand, which record how “families would go searching for months when soldiers went missing,” was the most emotional part of writing the book, Mr Sebag-Montefiore said.

“War books don’t always have to be about lots of people getting killed,” says Mr Sebag-Montefiore.

The historian set out to cover different aspects to the conflict, and not solely focus on those who were killed.

“I wanted to do as much as I can to include the women at home” and make the book more accessible to a female readership as well.