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The First Day on the Somme

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  966 ratings  ·  55 reviews
After an immense but useless bombardment, at 7.30 am. On 1 July 1916 the British Army went over the top and attacked the German trenches. It was the first day of the battle of the Somme, and on that day the British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, two for every yard of their front. With more than fifty times the daily losses at El Alamein and fifteen times the British ca ...more
Hardcover, 365 pages
Published March 1st 2003 by Pen & Sword Books (first published 1971)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
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Dan Lutts
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-i
"I cursed, and still do, the generals who caused us to suffer such torture, living in filth, eating filth, and then, death or injury just to boost their ego."
-- Pte. W. H. Haigh, 1/5th Yorks and Lancs

Private Haigh's statement on p. 364 of The First Day on the Somme sums up the attitude that many of the soldiers had not just about their first day of the Battle of the Somme but of the entire months-long battle (July 1-November 18, 1916). But for the British, the first horrendous day – 60,000 ca
...more
Sweetwilliam
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An alternative title for this book could have been, How to Raise an Army of Volunteers over a Two-Year Period and Then Destroy It in Ten Minutes. This is another disturbing story from that very disturbing and tragic war known as WWI. Martin Middlebrook’s The First Day on the Somme is written in the spirit of Lyn Macdonald’s series of very fine books on the same subject matter by incorporating multiple eye witness accounts in the words of the soldier. Middlebrook takes Macdonald’s recipe for succ ...more
JD
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, ww1
An absolutely great book!! Although centered around the first day on the Somme, the book is so much more. It gives great background on the British army on the Western Front and the beginnings of the New Army after the start of World War 1. The story is about the young men who volunteered in their thousands to fight the Germans and their patriotism that led them there, and for too many meant their gruesome end in the first hours on the Somme due to poor commanding by their generals that led them ...more
'Aussie Rick'
Jun 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was the catalyst for my enduring fascination for books covering the Western Front. I use to despair in trying to read books about the Great War, as they were mind numbing with the numbers of dead, I was too young to appreciate what I was reading. Martin Middlebrook’s “The First Day on the Somme” changed all that and gave me a love for this period of history and a better appreciation of what these poor soldiers went through. If anyone wants to better understand the Great War or the Batt ...more
Tony
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply brilliant. Martin Middlebrook explains the build-up, first day, and aftermath of the Battle of the Somme in a clear and accessible style, using numerous first hand accounts which put you right in middle of the action. Although he focuses on the first day (the clue's in the title...) the author somehow manages to use it as a microcosm of the entire war - so this would probably be a good place to start for someone new to WW1. I especially like the way he frames the story by following ten so ...more
Mike
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious students of war
Shelves: history, military, ww1
A signed copy, I read this just before taking a battlefield tour of the Somme. The book was excellent preparation to walking the battlefield. Highly recommended, book and tour.
WWI remains at the forefront of the British memory. This book illustrates why. It has many tales of personal courage, tragedy and various experiences of the battle. Standing on the battlefield, I was struck at how brave these men were in that terrifying place. The carnage was unimaginable, no protection from the machine gu
...more
Jonny
This was, I think, the first "serious" book I read about the First World War, way back in 1991. And it's still, probably, the best I've ever read.

Mr Middlebrook takes a "just the facts" approach to the events of 1st July 1916, presenting the events of the day through the experiences of ten of the participants, with some emphasis on other major actions taking place throughout the day. The lead in to the attack is well covered, and a background to the formation of the New Army, the location of th
...more
carl  theaker
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war
‘The First Day on the Somme’ should be on any Great War top ten reading list. Author Middlebrook takes the micro history approach to detailing the bloodiest day in British history, July 1, 1916. He uses letters, diaries, official military histories, and the testimony of over 500 British soldiers to re-create the feeling of ‘going over the top’.

Originally published in 1971, many of the survivors of the battle and the war were still alive to be interviewed. This now adds a certain ghostly ambien
...more
Stan Pedzick
Nov 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wow...

Simply mind blowing at the level hubris and gall on the part of the British General staff, to murder so many of your own men solely to relieve the French, and then to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because of your unwillingness to change your strategy when presented with information that does not conform to what your preconceived notions said should happen is just adding more insult to injury. Well, that would be the case if you then did not blame the troops for failing to do their
...more
Michael Dolan
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love Martin Middlebrooke's method of getting at the detail. In The First Day on the Somme he follows twelve individuals and their military careers before the battle as well as an overview of the day itself. The only drawback to this is that some might think that what was actually a four month long battle only lasted a single day. Other Middlebrooke books worth reading are three or four he did on RAF raids in WW2 on Hamburg, Berlin and Schweinfurt-Regensburg.
Anthony Ryan
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Based on hundreds of interviews with survivors, Martin Middlebrook's seminal work stands as a valuable oral history of one of the worst days of the First World War. A harrowing and fitting tribute to a now mostly vanished generation.
Heikki
Sep 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The First Day on the Somme, Martin Middlebrook, 1971, Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-139071-9

The Great War of 1914-1918 included many battles that have become legendary, perhaps none more so than that of Verdun. A separate effort, aimed at alleviating the pressure the French were experiencing at Verdun, became known as the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. The story of this bloodiest of all British battles has been admirably told by Martin Middlebrook.

This book is the tale of human courage of the men
...more
Martin
Martin Middlebrook's narrative and analysis of the worst day in British military history was published in 1972. Thus, it may be outdated by the past four decades of scholarship on the folly of the First World War. Still, this book has some strengths, even if Middlebrook's prose fails to fully convey the human drama of what happened on July 1st, 1916. In one day the British 3rd and 4th Armies lost more than 50,000 casualties -- dead, wounded, captured and missing.

At times his narrative was gripp
...more
Jack Buechner
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
The truth is that I enjoy reading history. Military history in particular. But the death-strategies (manslaughter on an epic scale) of WW I leave me cold. Middlebrook's "Somme" is page after page of carnage without any military or even political achievement. Rather it was a template for both sides to fight the last war with waves and waves of humans trying to ignore rapid fire weapons and the ever increasing technology in killing without a clue as to how to gain victory. Line after line of numbe ...more
Adele
Nov 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating stories of the utmost heroism and also the worst military decision making ever in the history of the British army. I couldn't put it down.
Christiaan
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Must read for WW1 fanatics
Ian
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've never been much of a First World War history buff, but this was a natural next read in the genre after John Keegan's "The Face of Battle." A paper copy is recommended over an e-reader solely for the ease of accessibility of maps that help to visualize the movements and battlefield as you read.

While this is THE book on the horrifying mistakes, heroism, and horror of the opening of the Battle of the Somme, it is the history of the men who formed the Pals Brigades in Kitchener's Army that are
...more
Geraldine
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everybody
Shelves: 2016, history, 5-star, ww1
An outstanding book, all the more so for being under-stated and lacking grandstanding.

Very simple premise, some 50 years after the Battle of the Somme, an amateur sets out to research how the first day was experienced by and affected the soldiers that took part. He did this by interviewing the - by then ageing - survivors and by trawling the archives, and then by writing an immensely readable book. Of course, given the subject matter, I can't call it enjoyable, but it was fulfilling and ticked j
...more
Elizabeth
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This telling of the first day of the Battle of the Somme wrecked me emotionally. The first hand accounts of the battle are so horrific and devastating that I had to pause at times to reflect, and think of what it must have been like. The terror, the death, and the destruction!! Not just men either, young boys died that day (some as young as 16).
KB
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was such a pleasure to read. From start to finish, it's an excellent account of the battle.

I actually didn't realize that this book was published in the 1970s until after I ordered it. Despite all the great reviews it has, that made me a little nervous because sometimes these older histories aren't the most readable. However, Middlebrook actually has a very readable, accessible style to his writing.

The book is organized chronologically, but it doesn't throw readers right into zero hou
...more
Jerry Smith
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, history, 2014-read
I rarely give 5 stars to books here on Goodreads and I debated doing so here. The fact that I did so is probably more to do with my particular interests in this conflict, and the awful day of July 1st 1916 than any particular outstanding merits of the book itself in terms of writing or particular literary style (although I found that style to be somber, informative but also very readable).

Any Brit with any level of interest in WW1 will be familiar with the awful events of July 1st 1916 and that
...more
Christopher Chambers
I came to this from the bibliography of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest and because family lore has it that my grandfather was on the Somme; I pledged to read it before the 100th anniversary this July.

So I am no historian, military or otherwise, but I found the book beautifully balances academic distance with care and concern for the men who fought that day. And it is about that single first day of fighting. That gives Middlebrook ample space to look at the a
...more
Mark
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An excellent history of the first day of this 1916 battle first published in 1971. The author discusses the formation of Kitchener's New Army in detail. He picks 10 British combatants and follows their contributions and adventures through the battle and after it. The book is divided into chapters based on the time of day as the battle progressed. The book is almost entirely about the British component of the battle. The French activity on the British right is mentioned only when necessary, and t ...more
Fred
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-1
This book recounts the events of July 1 1916 from the viewpoint of several soldiers who fought that day. Martin Middlebrook, a layperson to the field of history, took it upon himself to track down the men who survived the Battle of the Somme and interview them. It is both a valuable work of history and an entertaining read. If you are not familiar with the outlines of the battle you may find the book confusing as it moves from regiment to regiment around the field. The average soldier had no ide ...more
Elliott
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I deliberately made a point to avoid reading this book until the last part of June 2016- when 100 years ago the artillery was being set up and commencing its long bombardment. I finished the book on the date that the Somme was scheduled to begin.
I remember reading an anecdote in The Price of Glory by Aleister Horne where during the official commemoration of Verdun the usually unshakable Charles de Gaulle had to excuse himself for weeping during the remembrance, and even separate a whole century
...more
Gary Turner
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
An absorbing story, first read it forty years ago. It helped ignite my continuing obsession with the First War. Recently bought the revised edition and thoroughly enjoyed the new information.
Costa Panayi
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
The book was quite a 'heavy' read for me personally and there was a lot to take in. I thought this was a general book about 'The First Day on the Somme', but as this was only a single day of the Battle, a LOT had happened. Lots of information was written about it, and it was quite detailed. So many regiments and battalions were mentioned, the tactics, how many died, who died and where, who was not worthy of command anymore, etc. It was not the most interesting book to read, but I did learn a fai ...more
Izzy
May 31, 2016 rated it liked it
An excellent overview of the first day of the Somme, though it did tail off a little towards the end. I think I would have done better to have read this continuously over one period; because I dipped in and out, I kept getting lost and losing the narrative. Some extremely moving accounts from the men who were there and a very comprehensive dissection of the events. The maps were particularly good.
Emily
If there's anything worse than knowing the basic gist of things at the Somme (horrifying loss of life and futility of the attempted advance), then it is knowing the details of the first day. Part of what's fascinating, though, about this account is that Middlebrook spent what must have been many hundreds of hours corresponding with or interviewing survivors, and his account relies as much as on their reminiscences as on official sources.
Guy Cabell
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very well laid-out history of what happened on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916 - how the British troops who fought there were assembled, how they were equipped and led, and the simple mistakes that turned this day into a seminal event in the history of the United Kingdom. Mr. Middlebrook is cautious in laying blame on different leaders, but does carefully explain what worked and what didn't.
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Martin Middlebrook (born 1932) is a British military historian and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Appointed Knight of the Order of the Belgian Crown in 2004.

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