WORLD WAR ONE CENTENARY

JUNE 1916

TISBURY AND THE GREAT WAR

David Childs

The start of the month witnessed the great naval forces returning to harbour following the inconclusive major naval Battle of Jutland. A week later Britain was shocked to learn that their most senior, famous and charismatic soldier, Field Marshal the Earl Kitchener had been drowned off Orkney when, on 6 June, HMS Hampshire struck a mine laid on 28 May by U-75. Recent estimates put the loss of life as 736; there were only 12 survivors.

On the Western Front the British were building up forces and supplies for the great push at the Somme which would open on 1 July but further South, on the 23rd the Germans reached their furthest point of advance at Verdun when they captured Fort Thiaumont only for the French to retake this key position on the last day of the month.

In the Middle East the sheriff of Mecca opened the revolt against the Turks, giving an opportunity for an earnest archaeologist, T E Lawrence, to make a name for himself, but also to begin the hundred years of discord and disaster that have dogged the region ever since.

We will remember them

Many of Tisbury's young men died in battles of no renown but Armourer Sidney J Northover went down in HMS Hampshire along with Lord Kitchener in an event that shocked the nation. Twenty year old Sidney was the son of Kate Northover of London House, Tisbury and the late H W Northover who ran the large Northover Clothiers and Drapers at the bottom of the High Street. His name is recorded on the naval memorial on Southsea Common and may soon also be inscribed on the restored and modernised Kitchener Memorial on the cliffs in Orkney overlooking the waters where his ship went down.

POEM FOR JUNE

The Jewish artist and poet Isaac Rosenberg's sickly nature meant he could well have been declared unfit for active service but he returned to England from South Africa in 1915 and enlisted in one of the Bantam Battalions, which recruited undersize civilians. He was entirely unsuited to military life but stuck it out until he was killed in action on the Somme on 1 April 1918.

Break of Day in the Trenches

Written in June 1916

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass

Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver-what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe-
Just a little white with the dust.

Commemorating the Somme

In February 1916 the British and French agreed to a joint major offensive in Picardy, to the north of the small sluggish stream called the Somme. The French were going to make the greater contribution in manpower but they had not appreciated what a drain on resources was going to be made by their fierce determination to hold on to Verdun. By July the French were only able to field 12 divisions, from an initial 39, and to cover a front 15 km wide as opposed to 40 km. The demand on the British army was thus expanded well beyond the initial plan.

A large number of units of the British army were recruits who had received limited training. It was thus decided that they should advance in long lines at walking pace. To ensure that they did this with minimum casualties a mighty barrage and mining effort was made at the end of which it was confidently predicted that the Germans would remain cowering in their trenches and that the barriers of barbed wire would have been blasted away. Neither prediction was realised.

The result was that the British suffered 57,470 casualties on 1st July, the opening day of the battle, of which 19,240 were killed. It was the highest loss in a single day that the army had ever experienced. For this price the gains were negligible as they still were 141 days later when the Battle of the Somme ended. 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded.

©  Tisbury History Society
free hit counter javascript