1 July 1916

Wikipedia gives the total number of British soldiers killed along a twenty-mile stretch of the frontline on 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Somme campaign, as an exact 19,240. But it doesn’t really matter whether this figure is exact or not, it is enough to know that almost twenty thousand men were killed, never mind the number who died later from their wounds, on this one day. It is a day that has grown in infamy. However, this is not the purpose of this post. What I want to look at is how the thousands of bereaved families viewed the deaths of their menfolk as revealed in the headstone inscriptions they chose for them. They won’t say what you think they might. Some people did question the reason for these deaths, but for the majority, the idea that their menfolk had died for a for a real, a worthy cause, outlasted the war, despite the casualties. And why shouldn’t it? What consolation is there in thinking it was all a huge waste – especially when you didn’t think it was, when you did think that what he died for was necessary. It should be lesson for us that what we can convince ourselves is a good idea today could well be looked at very differently in a hundred years time.

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