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Germans recall Somme ‘bloodbath’
British soldiers dead outside a dugout in a trench Photo: Imperial War Museum

Germans recall Somme ‘bloodbath’

Paris, 30 November 1916 - German soldiers at a remove from the front and the German general public at home were well aware of the horrors prevailing in France when the British and French launched a joint offensive along the River Somme earlier this year.

This has been disclosed in a recent report from Mr Philip Gibbs, the Special Correspondent of the Daily Chronicle newspaper.

Before what has been called the second phase of the allied Somme offensive began in September, German soldiers had already invented the term, ‘The Bloodbath of the Somme’ to describe the ordeal they were experiencing on the front.

According to Gibbs, news of the horrors of the Somme were conveyed to more securely positioned German soldiers – and others – by the endless flow Red Cross trains that returned from the front carrying the maimed and mangled bodies of injured and deceased men.

Wounded German prisoners being placed in an ambulance for transportation to a base hospital during the Battle of the Somme and men of the German Red Cross carrying a British soldier from the battlefield. (Images: Imperial War Museum)

Although the German military police attempted to shield the horrible human cargo from the crowds that assembled at the railway stations by forming a protective cordon, there was no concealing the freight of the ambulances that ran from the stations, through the streets to the hospitals. From the procession of ambulances, the stiff soles of men’s boots could be viewed hanging over the ends of stretchers, telling their own eloquent story.

In letters captured by Gibbs, the physical and psychological toll of this war on the German troops becomes all too apparent. One soldier wrote of their difficulty in summoning enthusiasm for the singing of patriotic songs like ‘Deutschland Uber alles’: 'One never hears songs of the fatherland anymore'.

Another told of a comrade who was ‘dying with fear and anxiety’. And from the front line at Flers, another German soldier remarked upon the ‘intense smell of putrefaction which filled the trench – almost unbearable. The corpses lay either quite insufficiently covered with earth on the edge of the trench or quite close under the bottom of the trench, so that the earth lets the stench through. In some places bodies lie quite uncovered in a trench recess, and no one seems to trouble them. One sees horrible pictures – here an arm, here a foot, here a head, sticking out of the earth. And these are all German soldiers.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.