Though the world has largely forgotten it, July 1 is the anniversary of one of the worst military catastrophes in human history. It is called the Battle of the Somme, and it took place in France during the First World War.
On that day the Allied commander, General Douglas Haig, foolishly ordered more than 100,000 men to charge across “no mans land” just after dawn. The German army knew that an attack was coming, and they crisscrossed the battlefield with machine-gun fire, systematically mowing down the heavily laden troops. It was the bloodiest day in British history, with nearly twenty thousand men killed and thirty-five thousand wounded. The French and German troops suffered comparable casualties.
The tragedy of the Somme was its utter waste of human lives. The battle continued for 140 days and soon involved some 3 million men. More than a third of them became casualties before it was over. And for what? The Allies never drove the Germans back more than seven miles at any point, and even that ground was lost in 1918.
Oh, I know this all happened long ago and far away. What does it matter today? But somehow it seems fitting for us to pause for a moment to remember the sacrifice of the men who died and the 4 million family members whose beloved husbands, sons, and fathers never returned. It all began at dawn on July 1, 1916.