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Thursday, 22 March 2018

University of 3rd AgeThe Battle of the Somme: Facts Speak for Themselves

Speaker: Geoff Carter

On Thursday, 15th March, another full house of U3A Todmorden welcomed our special guests Mrs Moreton-Deakin, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and Cllr Jane Scullion, Deputy Mayor of Calderdale, and her consort, Andrew Bibby.

We also welcomed the return of Geoff Carter. Geoff has spoken to us about Antarctica and Yellowstone in the past, but this time his subject was more sobering:  the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Geoff’s command of his subject was authoritative and his amassing of the facts compelling.

In 1914 and 1915 Kitchener set about recruiting a ‘New Army’ of 500,000 that required a good year to kit out with uniform and equipment and to train.

Locally, Yorkshire and Lancashire provided almost 100,000 soldiers, including several Pals’ Battalions. 

With the army in place in France, in 1916 Marshal Petain petitioned Field Marshal Haig to create a diversion that would distract the Germans from their offensive that was slowly obliterating Verdun.

Haig planned his campaign to the north in the area of the Somme river.

The Germans, however, from their high ground, seeing the British planning an offensive, took pains to defend their ground with reinforced concrete machine gun posts, and built themselves well-appointed dugouts 40 feet underground that British shells could not penetrate.

On 1st July, 1916, British Headquarters ignored intelligence, and sent their troops laden with seventy pounds of equipment walking across muddy shell-pocked ground at 2 mph in full daylight without cover towards well-positioned enemy machine guns. 

Moreover, the Germans had already placed gunners in the craters left by British mine explosions.

Additionally, the Germans had tapped into British telephone communication wires, and knew the plan of attack.

In spite of General Rawlinson’s massive, but inadequate and ineffective bombardment German machine gunners efficiently cut down the British troops.  Of the 66,000 men who went over the top, 57,470 were dead or wounded by the end of the day.

At the end of the war, Haig was given £100,000 by a grateful nation and an earldom; Rawlinson received a mere £30,000 but was also made a baron and was appointed C-in-C of the army in India. The ordinary Tommy returned home to poverty and, as likely as not, unemployment.

This résumé cannot do justice to Geoff’s well-researched and illuminatingly illustrated presentation delivered in a style that allowed the facts to speak disturbingly for themselves.

Our other presentation was given by Pam Ball who sang the well-merited praises of the Practical Art Group that meets on alternate Fridays in the Fielden Centre between 11.00 and 1.30. 

Like Geoff, Pam let the group speak for itself with a musically-enhanced slide show of its work, displaying a wide variety of different media and styles. Subjects covered land- and seascape, portraiture, still life, and animals. A terrific virtual exhibition.

U3A Todmorden’s next meeting will be on Thursday, April 19th, 2018 in the Central Methodist Church Hall in Todmorden. Our speaker will once again be Granville Dobson whose talk this time will not be about the railways but about ‘Fifteen Years as a Magistrate’. Our contact details are www.u3atod.org.uk (website), enquiries@u3atod.org.uk (email), or 01706 812015 (phone).

Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.

Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report


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