Today marks the centenary of the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. After hearing the gun salute at 7:28am this morning from my office desk, and then observing the two minutes silence, I decided to spend a couple of hours down at the Imperial War Museum. It was well worth it. It put the events of the last week or so – the EU referendum resulting in a ‘Leave’ vote and the England football team’s exit from the Euros – into perspective.
Two Dulwich Hamlet players perished 100 years ago today, in what was one of the bloodiest battles in history. Hamlet midfielder, Sergeant George Arthur Popple [pictured] of the 1st/12th Battalion, London Regiment, The Rangers, was known as ‘Pop’ to everyone at Champion Hill.
Rifleman Reginald Astill of the 1st/9th Battalion, London Regiment, Queen Victoria Rifles, is better remembered for representing the Dulwich Hamlet Cricket Club. However, it is quite likely that Reg occasionally turned out for one of the Hamlet’s football teams as well.
Before the end of the Battle of the Somme on 18 November 1916, a further four hundred thousand British and Commonwealth soldiers were to perish. Among them were two more Hamlet fatalities – Tom Rose and Frank Hagger.
Both Popple and Astill, whose last remains were never recovered, have their names recorded on the Thiepval Memorial at the Somme in France.
One of the staff at the museum gave a terrific talk about the single worst day in the history of the British Army. It reminded me of Roger Deason’s great speech about all 22 Dulwich Hamlet fallen at the club’s War Memorial several years ago. Almost twenty thousand British soldiers died in one single day with a further forty thousand maimed and wounded. These are staggering figures and there is nothing to touch it in the annals of our nation.
The Battle of the Somme film is shown in its entirety on a loop. When the movie hit the silent screens in 1917 it was seen by millions. Apparently, more people paid to see it than saw the recent Star Wars movie! And instead of putting people off the Great War with images of death and despair …it caused more men to sign up.
Viewing this famous film footage of the Tommies before, during and after the Battle in the IWM setting, surrounded by objects and pictures and relics that once belonged to long dead soldiers made it even the more poignant.
If you haven’t visited the IWM I would highly recommend it.
Copyright © Jack McInroy, 1 July 2016