Much has been written about the The Battle of the Somme; a five-month confrontation which included the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. The first day of that Battle, which took place on 1st July 1916, has come to symbolise the futility of The Great War; almost 60,000 British soldiers fell on that first day alone and of these there were nearly 20,000 fatalities. This day in history witnessed extraordinary gallantry and immeasurable suffering and nowhere is that felt more acutely than when one visits the Thiepval Memorial.
This member of the Webteam has led hundreds of students from The Bishops' High School, Chester, to the front line trenches of the Western Front; many of these youngsters tracing the resting places of their known relatives. On one such visit, a student handed me a surviving letter from their family relative, Rifleman Arthur Waind, who had died on that first day of the Battle of the Somme. On each and every occasion thereafter, I gathered my students together within the Thiepval Memorial and beside the panel on which Rifleman Arthur Waind is remembered. I then shared with them the contents of his last letter to Edith, his wife.
Written some weeks before the battle, I share this letter with you today, the Centenary Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme ...
Rifleman Arthur Waind 4225 'C' Company, Queen's Westminster Rifles.
Died, aged 31, on Saturday, 1 July 1916.
My Dear Edith
When we are in the 1st line Trenches, life is composed of Guards and Fatigues with the absolute minimum of sleep. Sniping goes on throughout the night and during the daytime, the Artillery makes things hum.
Throughout the night, one third of the Garrison is continually on guard, another third 'sitting by' to be in readiness in case of alarm, and the remaining third sleeps, or tries to, as no-one is allowed to take equipment off and sleeping with 200 rounds of ammunition and Bayonet, Trenching Tools etc strapped round one's body makes a really comfortable rest difficult, but we manage to sleep alright.
You have no idea how grand it is to have a mouthful of rum after doing guard on a wet night as it makes the body warm immediately and keeps out the cold. I think there would be a revolution if anyone tried to stop our rum ration We get all kinds of tinned food, such as meat and vegetables, apricot, strawberry and plum jams, tinned butter, the very best, not margarine, soups, also we get plenty of bread. In fact, except at Rouen, I've never tasted Bully Beef or Biscuits.
The weather latterly has been cold with plenty of rain but we have been served out with waterproof capes that reach nearly to the boots and these are admirable to wear when on guard at night.
I have just done 20 days actually in the Trenches – it doesn't seem long but really when subjected to bombardment every day, one feels almost like a veteran. I can already distinguish the different shells by the sounds they make passing overhead. Some seem to pass along quite slowly making a noise like a small train – they are heavy high explosives, we nickname them 'crumps' – they make a hole deep enough to swim in when they hit the earth. Then there is the 'whizzbang' – these come so fast through the air that there is no alarm but they WHIZZ and then they BANG and then one ducks as the fragments fly about. Also there is the ordinary shrapnel. These make a whistling noise that the starlings out here try to imitate.
Your loving husband, Arthur