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The Great War
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The Battle of the Somme - Millions of Shells Fired
John Keegan
"It was the biggest barrage that had ever been.

"They [the Allies] fired millions of shells. They were firing over 100,000 shells a day; relentless, relentless banging and booming of this tremendous bombardment. So loud you could hear it in England, if the wind was in the right direction – 60 or 70 miles away. And that gave the soldiers great confidence because they thought: 'How can anybody live under this bombardment?' Which is what they were intended to think, and which the High Command themselves thought.

"There was a great deal of preparation for the battle, and soldiers did make their wills. Every soldier's pay book had a little blank 'will' form in it. There were special provisions in the war: you could make a valid will without it being witnessed, you merely had to sign. Commonly, they would say: 'I leave everything to my mother,' and sign their names, and that was their will.

"It was a religious army, in many ways.

Somme battlefield, contemporary
"Very high degree of churchgoing in England, and even more so in Scotland and Wales, before the First World War. So there were countless services. If they belonged to communicating branches of a Christian church, they commonly took communion. And, there was a great deal of writing letters of home, and of shaky hands. But I think in an optimistic – and perhaps, not even forced optimism – I think they really believed they were going to win a great victory on July the first.

"... they [the Germans] just began killing them, cutting them down as fast as they could.

"The British go up out of their trenches, shoulder to shoulder, for about ten or fifteen miles, and proceeded to advance across no-man's-land. As they did so, the Germans realized when they heard the bombardment stop that the attack was coming. They rushed up from their dugouts beneath the trenches and set up their machine guns and began to fire for their lives – literally for their lives – because, of course, it was kill or be killed.

"They just saw in front of them wave after wave of khaki-clad men – two, or three, or four, five hundred yards away – plodding on towards them. In many cases they did really kill almost everybody in front of them."

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