Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Battle of the Somme

One of my hobbies is genealogy and in the process of explore my ancestors I discovered that my great grandfather,Joseph Thomson Jackson, died in the slaughter of the first day of the Somme. This battle was supposed to have been the decisive turning point of the war with two huge mines destrying the german lines and allowing the massive british forces to break the line. Unfortunately the mines didn't destroy the german lines so when the british advanced at walking pace they were mown down by machine-gun fire. My great grandfather was in the 4th Battalion Tyneside Scottish regiment. His battalion sustained one of the heaviest casualty rates of the war, and he was one of them.

I had never heard of him until I discovered his name in the course of my researches. He is my mother's father's father, and she never spoke of him. But yet I am strangely moved that this unknown ancestor lived and died as part of this epic struggle. I'm also moved that his wife Mary Rachel was left alone to raise a family in Newcastle, and that she may even have lived to hear the news that her son Lawrence was killed at El-Alamein in 1942.

My views on war are mixed - can we not solve our conflicts in a less wasteful way? Are the british forces in Iraq and Afghanistan really protecting our freedom? But today I take my metaphorical hat off to great grandfather Joseph and his comrades who walked to their deaths in a hail of bullets, and to those who actually serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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