Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The First World War: The People’s Story | Part 2: The Battle of the Somme | Free Documentary History

It's now 100 years since the end of the first world war a conflict that claimed the lives of over three-quarters of a million british men now featuring rare and previously unseen personal testimony alongside newly restored archive film.

This groundbreaking three-part series will tell the story of the great war as never before from the suffering and sacrifice experienced by the men on the front line the corpses there they all had rashness in the cage of the chest and when you disturbed them the rats ran.

Out of the chest you can't forget things like that to the dramatic change in women's lives on the home front i felt when i was working on munitions i really thought well don't got any brothers to go and fart i'm doing the next best thing and i was quite pleased to be able to do it.

in this film we'll hear from those who survived the horrors of the song we've met ooh hurricane of bullets they actually they ripped by my ears you know ping ping ping ping ping ping flying by by my ears like that.

And from those who were left with physical and mental scars they amputated my foot through the ankle i made no bones about it i really cried my eyes out when i saw the results this is the story of the tragedy and turmoil of britain's great war.

in 1916 after more than a year of stalemate on the western front allied commanders planned a major new offensive against the german army it would take place along a 16-mile stretch of the river some.

And it all went according to plan result in a decisive victory it was supposed to be a joint offensive with france but in february the germans attacked the city of verdan over 150 miles away and many french divisions were diverted there where they would suffer enormous.

Casualties as a result the main responsibility for the somme offensive fell to the british led by new commander-in-chief sir douglas hague they were so confident of victory they allowed film cameras to record the event.

They would capture one of the most infamous and costly battles of the entire war people said that hague was wrong in making us go and fight the enemy damn it we couldn't sit there forever you got to get on with the job the french should be badly.

Been nearly knocked out and we gotta get get out of the job and kill there to kill the germans the other doors we were told by our senior officers and do our best to prevent this country being taken over by our enemy well we wanted to fight the germans.

Anyway blinking old kaiser in any sun we used to hate them people you're only younger you see what i mean you're young and you you're full of excitement i suppose all together now it's a long way to temporary it's a long way to go.

It's a long way to temporary to the sweet taste girl i know a good dubai piccadilly farewell listers square it's a long long way to temporary but my heart's right there.

Arriving at the front were the latest recruits to secretary of state for warlord kitchener's volunteer army which by then numbered around two and a half million men many were in one of the new so-called pals battalions made up of volunteers from the same town.

Village or workplace young people like myself are saying we'll show those germans we'll push them back home it was just the thoughts of really young men who didn't know any better.

Had lied about their age to be there i was 15 but i said i was 18. i told them i was 18 but i was only 16. so patriotic that's why it was just so patriotic that was our feeling those days and i was went to the battle of the tomb so that's where i was sent to the battle of the sun and then to a.

Place called feet bowel some of kitchener's recruits preparing for battle on the sun already knew what it was like to go over the top having fought it loose in 1915 where 16 000 men were killed in two weeks of fighting.

I thought myself when we went on the song i thought i will never mind if my time comes i'd love always hoping to pull it of it's sudden if i've got to go i've got to go it's all for sun that's where i don't get it.

And i never i always dreaded losing an arm or a leg well we knew what we were in for we were there to do a job we couldn't get out of it we did we were trying to do a job and we did it i might have been afraid i'd expect i.

Was afraid the second time yeah there's no doubt about it we were afraid young fellows 1890s married men with a couple of kids going over the top like that and they're crying their eyes out wondering what's happening to the people at home.

At home britain's children were having to come to terms with the fact that their fathers were away fighting but their pride in having seen their dad in uniform before he left was a memory that gave comfort to some i can remember mum took us out for the days.

To dover castle and we were so thrilled about it because we could look out of some slits in the wall and uh right and we were told to look across and we could see france there and then um of course we.

Had to see dad drilling the men we were naturally over the moon to stand there and see how dad but then as a child you would wouldn't you think you think your dad's the you know one and only.

when first i started school my first teacher was a mr brown and he was very nice we'd all adored him because we'd never had a male teacher before we'd always been female teachers you know so we were thrilled to bits and the.

First day went through the register he was going through all the names and he says oh we have a mod he said stand up modded so i stood up and he cooked his finger to come here and he says i'm a singer you know and that's my favorite song come into the garden mode and he says you're the first.

One i've ever come across that had that name so he says that would be our song weren't it and oh of course i was thrilled to bits and every time he wanted me to come out he used to sing come into the garden board and then the next thing he was called up and he went away.

on the 24th of june 1916 the allies launched a massive artillery bombardment on the somme in an attempt to destroy german defenses in seven days over a million and a half shells were fired at the enemy lines we were all convinced that this was the.

Push that which was to which was to end the war we were certainly very impressed with the thunder of the guns because it started all at once and they terrific and it went on and on and on thunder thunder thunder.

With a practice year you could pick out the individual types of gun filing well at times it's indescribable you might get about 12 guns battery i don't know what they call them there until they all firing at the same time another time would be one after the.

Other tens of thousands of shells have been sent over to the german line and the day before we were supposed to go over the top an officer.

Our ranking officer got on his horse and said to us tomorrowland tomorrow bend you'll go uh i i take the german trench i say that because i know you'll take the trench there's no trench there there's no wire there but it'll all be pounded by our goodness.

And you could just walk over and carry your guns as you would carry a bag at 7 30 a.m the men would go over the top toward the german lines as the time approached they made their final preparations we moved up into the front line church.

Every man was given a packet of wood bombs it's a stupid thing to say but i went they was thinking you're not really living the dollar and that that sort of overalls event i don't know why it doesn't matter and um.

Zero eye was 7 30. it was lovely morning and over the top we went the just shouted come on lads it's at the sergeant and that's you're going to go over the top the best you could.

well the one next to you would be about a yard away from your two yards away on the other side of you and you move straight forward in the line you're not holding each other's arms in the south where german defenses were at their weakest.

The artillery bombardment was most successful and allied infantry faced the least resistance actually we had um a very good day the manchesters were on my right were held up and somebody else on our left was held up.

And that's why we had to stop really otherwise some idiot said we're going to walk straight through the berlin but we couldn't but elsewhere the bombardment failed and the germans emerged from deep dugouts and waited with rifles and machine guns ready.

i was one of the first to get up over on the top we met i they actually they whisk by my ears you know ping ping ping ping ping ping flying by.

By my ears like that we were able to see the infantry going forward in some cases they didn't get very far they were just wiped out if he were quick enough to drop down when the germans opened fire the bullets would go over over the top of me.

But there was good money wounded before they couldn't drop some of the cats were lying around you know arms off or in pain and so on some the fella would say give us a bag you know or something i did but you couldn't help the poor soul.

You couldn't help him at all tommy gay had gone over the top together with his best friend from the time we went up over the top when i was together something i never saw him anymore no i never saw my his name was johnny jump yes.

Never saw him anymore must have had one the bully right away yeah the british suffered over 57 000 casualties that day including over 19 000 men killed it remains the most costly day in the history of the british army.

they were just put down on stretchers pieces of fencing pieces of wood just put down left and right off the stretcher bearers went to get some more.

Oh some of the men were calling for their mothers some were called for girlfriends or wives it was a nasty set i remember once i said well have you held a mother and father and he said i haven't got a mother she's dead but i.

Say said to him but he'll be with him in a few minutes so don't worry and that was all i said to him wasn't anything else to say how can you describe seeing a mere handful of men come where you whether you you were used to seeing.

It seeing about in battalion and we weren't the only ones who felt sick the colonels were sitting in front of what was left.

Of their men sobbing there were so few so few men left i was must have been the luckiest man on earth but to walk over the front with all that machine gun fire i'm not one of those bullets got my name on it i must be the luckiest man on earth.

Absolutely the luckiest man in the world the first day of the battle of the somme was a national tragedy but it was only the beginning of a long and bloody struggle as along the battlefront most of the allied objectives still lay in german hands.

joining those already at the front were more of kitchener's volunteer army among them many inexperienced young officers who would soon be leading their men over the top when i was 19 i was posted to france.

And there had been tremendous casualties and i was obviously a replacement an officer uh in my time a second lieutenant in my time his term of fighting was no more than six weeks.

Six weeks was it was it before he was killed or wounded the castles they were enormous it was all very sad but uh there was a hell of a war going on and you've got to get on with it and you went there despite might be wounded or killed at any moment.

Yourself the harm was throwing things at you all day long all night long very often and i don't think you gave it much thought throughout the summer of 1916 allied forces on the somme went over the top time and again.

As they fought for the objectives they previously failed to take first of all you're looking at your watch and you see zero hour and then you look and see that your men the bed you're going to go over the top with.

Our left and right are equipped and ready to go and then you you encourage them right and left to go with you all go together so you sort of shepherded them over.

As well as you could and that's that's the only description i could give you you're a shepherd your what ambition is to get to the german wire safe and sound get there before the germans get you.

We knew we had to go over and shift your restraints hi excited to show get on get down okay you go down you're getting a buck of a bloody thistle if you for settle telling me.

Hey you went out and you saw men dropping right and left if you knew them as as you would you've you felt for them very much very much as you went though climbing barbed wire my clothes was all ripped up like rags sort of thing.

Climbing barbed wire here barbed wire there you know and then what did i say while i was in a hell of a strength just in rags i was in wrecks the advantages were almost there to be used if necessary when i say if necessary that was it what.

I mean to say if you got close enough to use them i'll tell you something i know i've always been at fighting there's more lads put bullets into the enemy instead of the bearings and then when we weren't supposed to do.

That you know though and he was standing solid where there was on the move yeah know just pulled the trigger and down he would go it made you.

Never forget it never i haven't to this day because to think you you shot a man you know and do nothing at you that was no oh you saw this look at it and then again you say well if i don't get him he'll get me and.

My life is with a hell of a lot to me that's how we were on young duff on the song what was supposed to have been a swift and decisive victory had turned into a brutal battle of attrition life was cheap tall penny it didn't matter how many.

Men were killed awarded as long as they obtained a german trench which inevitably and that happened many a time we held it for half a dozen hours till they came back at us about twice or three times and drove us back to where we originally started.

we were sent away again over the top for the third time in succession you know in succession and of course our objective was to take the town on guillemot when we got there the germans had returned a little bit and.

One of them came along and i'd worked on his own one german on his own and come back and there was half a dozen wrestlemanias hiding in a shell hole we were in the jedi huddled together so he shouldn't be seen much and he's when the german come up to me and he almost.

Stabbed me you know he was a good mind to do me in he got his body on the end of his rifle and nearly stuck it into me but he touched my chest certainly but he never stabbed me and of course i went cold naturally.

but then he didn't stab me he took us the four or five of us out of the shadow and put us in a compound behind the german mind but that was a bad feeling a very bad bear.

The allies captured the village of guillemot on the 6th of september 1916. the battle of the somme had entered its third month keep the whole fires burning though your heart is yearning when the leads are far away they dream of.

Home there's a silver lining through the dark clouds shining keep the dark clouds right away till the boys come home we hoped we wanted a blighty wound as much as anything we got to that stage.

That if we if we got a blighty wound bloody is an indian word as you probably know uh home blighty being home the best we could hope for was a wound that would take us home.

All my life i've had hunches and they've come true and i said to my friend what a nice morty for a cushy blighty at home i have no faith idea what came down or how it came down.

But i just had one stiffening baron and i went like a poker and when i came to i noticed that i was hit behind the heel which took the soul cleaned away.

The doctors had a look at me and i said that i did not want to lose my foot if possible but it was hopeless the foot had to go and that was that they put me on a a table with a mattress i think it was in the kitchen that did.

It and they at last they say they they i had the chloroform in those days and it was done i was warned by somebody who knew that if when you go first time in the theater so.

Many nurses who have to attend their first operation will fend when the first impression first decision is made but if you make a point of looking over there when they're doing the incision there and then turn your head afterwards if you don't see the first incision made.

You're all right but if you see the blood oozing out your downfall and i found it worked beautifully i've never painted the there's the ears they amputated my foot through the through the ankle and.

And i can assure you that was no easy job and i was it was extremely painful i can assure you if i ever howled in my life when i came out i howled in i made no bones about it i really cried my eyes out when i saw the results.

Jock was sent back to britain where amputees and other wounded men were becoming a common sight on the streets for those sent home for treatment or convalescence there was often a chance of reconciliation with loved ones.

Even if only temporary in 1916 my dad was wounded i don't know how but um came home on leave and i remember him sitting there and making a fuss of me and uh singing.

He had a gramophone with a blooming great big horn blue and he put this record on and then he was singing to me and when i told them how beautiful you are they'll never believe me that from this great big world you've.

Chosen me you know it's to me that was absolutely wonderful i don't know how long he was home but it was lovely having him home because sir he went back again.

as autumn approached british casualties on the somme totaled around 200 000 men progress remained slow but the army was about to unleash a secret weapon that would help to change the course of the battle i was out in the trench up there.

With some others and i could hear a power parameter going on and i thought watch that noise it's getting louder and louder stood on the fire step and i could see something moving like what we call it's got a steam road roller.

With a big funnel on and big heavy thing and i said look and they all started looking some got up in the parapet we could see these things moving and behind them there were probably four or five or six soldiers running behind with the bayonets fixed an armored crawler that's what i call.

Them of course when we got in them and got moving around with them oh well we knew exactly what what they were for and the armaments when we got inside we saw the armaments we said well this is.

This is really it we never deviated the tanks for anything we had to go over previous dead and dead that you'd killed if they fell in your way you had to go over all feelings of humanity leaves you when you're fighting.

You say to yourself well it's either him or me see so i got to get in first that's it that's what you said so you you've got no feelings of humanity right then.

Afterwards yes perhaps yeah the tank was one of the most significant military advances of the war but there were advances in medicine too including developments in blood transfusions x-rays and prosthetics however in the days before.

Antibiotics many wounds became infected as bullets and shrapnel carried the filth of the battlefields into the body leading to gangrene amputation and death oh the smell of gam green that's the thing you never forget a terrible smell i think anybody who's ever smelled it.

Would do that you get it so quickly when the london is back in the past when i hadn't mentioned gangrene i was terrified they took my leg off from the ankle to four six inches below the knee.

And that was a big one and i can assure it was so very sore and i felt it and i once again i did a hell of a lot of crying good hefty stuff dress in time was an ordeal with all hers.

The bandages that i had on had dried and they had to be pulled away and and much of the nutrition adhered to the skin throughout his ordeal the woman responsible for jock's care was known to him only as nurse.

Sutherland she was mindless and she certainly looked after me in every way it wasn't a case of attraction like and just her case she was good at her job very good job she never spoke hardly except.

Words of comfort and i did nothing else but cry and be the soldier in being 20 or 21 i didn't want to be more or less a child and cried down but cly i did and plenty of it.

back on the som the first tanks went into action on the 15th of september 1916 during the battle of flair corsalette although the early models were prone to mechanical failure and the army was unsure how best to use them.

They still took the germans completely by surprise they'd never seen at anything like it before but when they when they saw we was armed with uh small guns and machine guns they gave up right away.

It's surprising we hadn't time to get on top of the trench before they was out with their arms up and we pass them over to the infantry and take back to base.

And the rest we we could see some of the machine gunners had got away and we could see them silhouetted against the skyline with the machine guns on their shoulders going like hail back to the second and third lines we did a job that the infantry had been.

Trying to do for two years and then us hundreds of thousands trying to do it and couldn't and we didn't have an hour so you see with the help of the tank the battle of the somme finally ended on.

The 18th of november 1916 when the allies captured the village of beaumont hamel in four and a half months of fighting british and empire casualties totaled almost 420 000 men they'd advanced just six miles but they dealt a devastating blow to the german army.

But for some the horrors weren't over yet i arrived at beaumont hamill then i was told to bury to collect the newly killed dead which i did i i took a little stretcher bearers uh.

Unfortunately the stretcher bearers got a number of them they were related to the ones who were dead and it was a bit upsetting then i was told to go back into the no man's land or rather what was romanceland.

And bury the old dead that is the dead of the new founding regiment who had been killed there on july the first the first one i saw the first one i came across with his hair growing growing out of his still growing from.

His face when i touched it the rats ran out there was nothing left under the potty except a bone it seemed to be such a terrible waste of life after all they'd been through many of those who fought at the psalm.

Remain traumatized by their experiences it it affects the nerves the noise and everything it gradually affects the nerves and if you're a nervous person or your nerves are anyways bad at all it's going.

To affect you it makes you feel bad in yourself real bad you you you begin to do like this and i never did that before and i couldn't couldn't believe myself at the time i couldn't believe it that i i thought my nourish would would.

Carry me but now it broke my nerve cases of shell shock were identified as early as 1914 and ranged in their severity at the battle of the somme as many as 40 of all casualties were also suffering from some form of the condition.

We were on the song for the whole of the time you couldn't help being a bit frightened i think but you you couldn't show it you've got to bottle it up that's why i put a great strain on one's nervous system i was troubled for a good many years by.

A difficulty in speaking it was hardly a stemmer it wasn't stuttering but i didn't sleep to three and four o'clock in the morning and used to go up through this eating and down again but that was the after thick to.

Being shelled for 19 months and so on while some bore mental scars others were left to deal with life-changing physical injuries to the public they were heroes out if we went out with the some of the boys about a dozen of the boys wounded boys we all went to the bus.

And we went into the movies who got him for nothing you were always a bit of a political an eye catcher they would always stop in the street and look at you or some people come up and talk to you and then sometimes you get packets of cigarettes.

Or chocolates and things like that while he was recuperating jock heard news of the woman who'd looked after him no sutherland she was i think she was retiring so i wrote her and and i said i had to.

I'd come now i'd get if i'd come in there with my friend who couldn't would call it a seer but about a week before we were due to leave i had a a letter saying that she had died i don't know.

The cause are edited but she she she eventually died i miss her a lot in five show school girl maude cox was waiting for news from her favorite teacher mr brown they used to send postcards to the.

School you know to see where he was and whether he was getting on and then one day the headmaster mr christie he the whole bill rang we all had to go into the assembly hall you know and he put a big map on the board and.

He told us he says no oh mr brown and the fiancee's of miss jesse and miss jean macleod they'd all been killed at a place called the somme in france and he pointed out on the map and put a cross on it and he said no i want you all to say the prayer.

For the dead and then we'll sing the first verse oh god our help helping ages past and i want you all to walk very quietly home but i didn't go quietly home i rushed home crying all the road and mother said what was wrong i said mr brown's been caught been killed he'll never.

Sing come into the garden mode anymore i know she's comforting me she is but he's not the only one you know and they you know i took a long while to be comforted because he was such a nice man.

against alone and as i've pointed out to a priest once i've gotten priest he was talking about hell i said don't talk to me about her father i said i've been too well once i don't want to go through it again.

in the sitting room mum had this great big picture on the wall of dad in his uniform head and shoulders and she just turned it around the other way.

probably because it upset her to see it every time she went in the room you see you

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