It’s hard to comprehend the number of lives lost at the Battle of the Somme and during the First World War in general.
Over a million people were killed or injured on both sides during the infamous Somme Offensive, with Britain suffering nearly 60,0000 on the first day alone. So many loved ones were ripped from their families without notice and for very little gain. I can’t imagine what the soldiers were thinking and feeling as they waited their turn to charge, having seen so much carnage around them. Perhaps most heartbreakingly of all, many of the people fighting were practically boys; the average age of a British soldier was just twenty-six.
I watched this morning’s coverage of the centenary of the first day of the battle with a mix of sadness and fascination. The film and photographs they showed from the time were hugely evocative and striking. The statistics were staggering. They talked of a boy who snuck away from his family to sign up attwelve years old, who fought at the Somme for six weeks until a letter from his mum revealing his age reached France and he was sent home. I don’t know how anyone could cope with what they saw and did, least of all when they were so young. He must have returned from mainland Europe feeling far older than when he left.
It’s vital that we remember what happened back then, irrespective of the time that’s passed. I observed the two-minute silence on a bus, and afterwards, as I looked around, I thought of how much I take for granted that I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for them. I wouldn't have coped if I’d been there. I wouldn’t have had the strength. So many young men and women were robbed of the lives and stories they could have shared without the war. I – and we – will remember them.