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Twelve Days on the Somme (Paperback)

A Memoir of the Trenches, 1916

WWI Greenhill Books Greenhill: WWI Somme Memoirs 1916 Military

By Sidney Rogerson
Greenhill Books
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 2 black and white
ISBN: 9781784385941
Published: 21st May 2020

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A joint operation between Britain and France in 1916, the Battle of the Somme was an attempt to gain territory and dent Germanys military strength. By the end of the action, very little ground had been won: the Allied Forces had made just 12 km. For this slight gain, more than a million lives were lost.

There were more than 400,000 British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 German casualties during the fighting. Twelve Days on the Somme is a memoir of the last spell of frontline duty performed by the 2nd Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Written by Sidney Rogerson, a young officer in B Company, it gives an extraordinarily frank and often moving account of what it was really like to fight through one of the most notorious battles of the First World War.

Its special message, however, is that, contrary to received assumptions and the popular works of writers like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, men could face up to the terrible ordeal such a battle presented with resilience, good humour and without loss of morale.

This is a classic work whose reprinting is long overdue. This edition includes a new introduction by Malcolm Brown and a Foreword by Rogerson's son Commander Jeremy Rogerson.

I've immersed myself in the First World War for four decades but until recently, unaccountably, I had never read Sidney Rogerson's 'Twelve Days on the Somme'. Well, "Better late than never", as they say, and reading the book - has made me want to find out more about the men he mentions, and find photos of them.

Sidney Rogerson served as a lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and the twelve days he writes compellingly about, concern 12 days in November 1916 towards the end of the Somme campaign which ended in mud and filth. It is writing of the highest order.

Rogerson describes life in the line, and the all too brief lives of some of his fellow officers. The last anyone saw of 2nd Lt Victor Lionel Pimm ('Pym' in 'Twelve Days...) was when he was sent out on a covering party and, "he had barely got his party out in front when a German machine gun opened fire. Every man threw himself flat but it was only a random burst. Although from some shell-hole close to them in the darkness Pym ordered his men back to the trench, he himself did not return with them. Neither did he follow them in." In due course, the hours mounting and still no sign of Pimm, 2nd Lt Arthur Skett, who had sent Pimm out initially, determined to find him. "Hardly had he put a foot in No-Man's Land than he fell back dead, his head split open by a random bullet."

Victor Pimm was killed in action on the 10th November 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Arthur Skett was killed the following day on the 11th November 1916. "Him we buried before daylight," writes Rogerson, "as reverently as we could in the circumstances, digging a grave between bursts of machine gun fire in the parados of Fall Trench." Today, 2nd Lt Skett is buried in the AIF Burial Ground at Flers.

A great read, and one to sit happily alongside Blunden, Graves, Sassoon and the rest.

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Paul Nixon

A good book which is well written, in formative and very evocative of life in the trenches towards the end of the Battle of the Somme.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)
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