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…when I came on the scene the whole place, trenches and all, was spread with dead. We had neither time nor space for burials, and the wounded could not be got away. They stayed with us and died, pitifully, with us, and then they rotted. The stench of the battlefield spread for miles around. And the sight of the limbs, the mangled bodies, and stray heads.

John Raws was killed at the Battle of the Somme. He wrote this letter to his brother on 12 August 1916 just before he died.


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Hundreds of dead were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high water mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net. They hung there in grotesque postures. Some looked as though they were praying; they had died on their hands and knees and the wire had prevented their fall. From the way the dead were equally spread out …it was clear that there were no gaps in the wire at the time of the attack.

How did our planners imagine that Tommies, having survived all other hazards …would get through the German wire? Had they studied the black density of it through their powerful binoculars? Who told them that artillery fire would pound such wire to pieces, making it possible to get through? Any Tommie could have told them that shell fire lifts wire up and drops it down, often in a worse tangle than before.

An extract from a book written by George Coppard after the war. Coppard was a machine-gunner in the British army and was at the Somme.


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