On July 1, 1916, some eighteen British and French divisions on both sides of the River Somme moved against German General Fritz Von Below's Second Army. By the time the fighting in the region finally ended on November 18, 141 days later, the British and French had pushed the German lines back six miles--at a cost for all sides of more than 1 million soldiers killed or wounded. The Battle of the Somme was thus one of the bloodiest in human history, and it has occupied a central place in the tragic story of World War I for a century.
This book brings together one hundred epitaphs from headstones marking the graves of British soldiers who died in the battle. The Imperial War Graves Commission limited epitaphs to sixty-six letters, including spaces, a constraint that left little room for flowery sentiment and rendered these commemorations stark and unforgettable. Lieutenant Dillwyn Parrish Starr's epitaph reads merely "Of Philadelphia, U.S.A.," while Lieutenant Richard Roy Lewer's reads "For England." The headstone of South African Private John Paul however, asks "Did He Die in Vain?"
Sarah Wearne has selected epitaphs that cover a range of approaches and emotions, from soldiers famous and forgotten, each one simultaneously a personal tribute to an individual and a marker of the era, the culture, and the sacrifices it expected. As the centennial commemorations of World War I continue, this book brilliantly reminds us that its staggering costs, while marked in the millions, ultimately reduce down to the individual.