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The Battle of the Somme, First Phase - Non-Fiction
Published 1916


Unsurprisingly Buchan does not mention the 57,450 casualties incurred by the British on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle in world history. His The Battle of the Somme - First Phase implies a solid advance into and through the enemy lines being a step on the long road to the ultimate victory of the First World War, and achieving what we might call today a temporary destabilisation of the German front.

The fact that later historians would have different interpretations with different emphases in no way detracts from the validity of Buchan's description of the first phase of the battle, from 1st July to early September 1916. His account has the advantage of being an almost contemporaneous record. It is also complemented by a considerable number of photographs together with various maps of the battle lines. In particular, the quotations from the letters and comments of those involved in the battle enable the reader to appreciate the actual feelings of participants at the time. The German commander's 'stand firm' order of 3rd July to his troops and subordinate commanders implies an element of panic. A young British officer's letter home is typical in its matter-of-fact attitude and its playing down of the dangers he faced. He was killed before the letter was posted.

Colin McLean March 2001

In late June 1916 Buchan 'was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps ... Anyone permanently employed on Intelligence work became part of the Intelligence Corps, but so too did personnel on support duties such as censorship, publicity and propaganda: it was under these auspices that Buchan joined the Corps' (Andrew Lownie, John Buchan - The Presbyterian Cavalier, 1995, 125)

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