Friday, July 1, 2016

Britain's Bloodiest Day

On July 1, 1916 about 60,000 British soldiers died in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme in northern France in World War I.  It was the bloodiest day in the entire history of Britain. While there  is no reason to expect a full return to such bloodiness as a result of it, I see a bit of irony that the Brexit vote happened eight days prior to this centennial.  Let us hope indeed that the voted does not presage an unraveling back into serious warfare in Europe, with or without Great Britain.

Barkley Rosser

6 comments:

Bruce Webb said...

Barkley seems the Intertoobz have it in for you. First the Facebook hijacking and now this spam beating the Captcha.

Good luck, stay well and (despite all this) have a nice holiday weekend.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Yeah, Bruce, I have exaggerated. Just read in the NY Times in an article about how J.R.R. Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in the trenches of the Battle of the Somme. Apparently "only" 19,240 British soldiers died on July 1, 1916, although that remains the highest number ever in British history. Maybe I am too obsessed with this sort of thing, having visited that battlefield, as well as the similarly bloody at Verdun, where one can still see bayonets sticking out of the ground. The only battle in world history comparable to the Somme and Verdun at over a million dead was Stalingrad in WW II.

Let us hope we never see anything like any of those ever again.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Oh yes, total deaths on both sides all nationalities on July 1, 1916 was 57,470, exceeded in deaths in wartime in one day only by certain massive bombings in WW II, notably firebombing of Tokyo, nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and firebombings of Dresden and Hamburg.

rickstersherpa@msn.com said...

The 57 thousand casualties was the total killed, wounded,captured,& missing. Of course many of the wounded later died of their wounds, most of missing were dead but obliterated, like Kipling's son, & many of captured died of disease & malnutrition. Still the bloodiest & worse day in British history, although for destroying the old certainties of Victorian Britain I think Passchendale was more important. Most insightful book I have read on the Great War was Fussell' The Great War in Modern Memory.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

rick,

You are right that the 57,000 number is casualties. But the 19,000 is just British deaths. The total dead on both sides was around 29,000. The disproportionate deaths by the British is due to them being the ones who thought that they had neutralized their enemy's guns in the trenched and so went charging across wave by wave on July 1, with the result being that huge number of deaths. Needless to say, that was not repeated, although the total dead in the Battle of the Somme would exceed a million through November.

Peter T said...


The battle of Towton in the Wars of the Roses is reckoned to be England's bloodiest day proportionate to population (around 10,000 dead out of a population around 3 million).

In terms of losses proportionate to population, WW I was not exceptional - the French and Napoleonic Wars were about as bloody. It did, however, concentrate those deaths into a smaller space and time, and fall upon populations whose elites thought that mass warfare was a thing dead and gone. The lower classes, whose daily life was less cushioned, were less shocked (I've come across remarks by farm labourers that service life was the first time that they were not over-worked and under-fed, and by Welsh miners engaged in tunnel warfare that it was less dangerous than at home, because there was no penny-pinching on pit-props and other safety measures).