The Mind and Soul of Combat
At 7:30 in the morning on July 1, 1916, British men arise from trenches across an 18-mile front carved from French soil near the meandering Somme River. Their objectives, the series of German defenses on the other side of No man's Land, have been under bombardment for a week. Surely any German still alive over there will be too shell-shocked to put up resistance.
These soldiers from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Newfoundland, and Bermuda now making their way toward the dead and wounded enemy are well trained in the use of the bayonet. They don't knowthey are now in the process of learningthat bayonets are nearly worthless for combat purposes in what will be called the Great War. Some 75 percent of wounds will be caused by artillery, as opposed to the .03 percent of wounds caused by bayonets. What these soldiers do know is that they are carrying heavy loadsbetween 55 and 70 pounds of materiel apiece: rations, an Enfield rifle, two gas helmets, 220 rounds of ammunition, two grenades, two empty sandbags, a spade, a pair of wire-cutters, a flare, a canteen, and other items.
What they are finding out as the seconds pass is that what they had been told, and what they believed, was false. Many Germans on the other side are alive; many German machine guns still work.
By noon, the British will have suffered nearly 60,000 casualties.
On my office wall hangs an enlarged photograph of some of these men just as they have emerged from their own trenches. One of them is already down; the fellow behind him appears to be looking to see if his comrade will get up. Following orders, he doesn't stop to lend assistance. He must keep moving.
I would give a lot to know what's happening in the minds of the men in that picture. ...