Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Into the Breach - the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916

Years ago I took a World War I history class at the University of Washington. The professor (who seemed an "old" man at the time, but I was merely young at the time) mentioned during a lecture that every July 1st he paid for a classified ad/notice in the London Times in remembrance of the British soldiers killed at the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916--the worst one day loss of life in British military history. The professor said WW1 memorial ads/notices had been quite common for years in London newspaper, until WW1 veterans and their families had died off. The professor wanted to continue the remembrance.

The professor commented that it was customary for British officers to toast their commander at the end of the day. One officer in a British regiment which had fought on that terrible day was called upon to give the traditional toast. However, he could not toast the commanding officer after such a tragic loss of life. The poor man needed to say something but also not offend his commanding officer. The young officer finally raised his glass and said: "Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts." 

In other words, the officer suggested a toast to the end of the war. Every officer in the room--including the commanding officer--raised their glasses in shared sentiment.

My UW professor stated he included the toast in his classified ad/notice, admitting it was not his original idea and that the toast had often been included in WW1 memorial notices. The professor told a classroom of young students that he inevitably would die and imagined by then no one would still be printing memorial notices in the London Times in remembrance of those killed at the Somme. Anyone who had remembered the dead of 1916 would have long since died themselves.

My old professor died last year (he was actually old last year and I am no longer young). This Friday is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

This is the notice that I paid to be printed on Friday, July 1, 2016 in the London Times classified section.

Into the Breach: To the undying memory of the men who fell at the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st, 1916. "Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts."

Robert H.