The stories of individual local men brought the horrors of the Great War vividly into focus at our January monthly meeting, writes Penny Tompkins
‘Lest we forget’ – Rudyard Kipling’s immortal words continue to ring down the years as a clarion call to all who might forget the horrors of war. Perhaps that horror is most particularly recalled in the mud, blood and lost graves on the poppy-strewn fields of the Battle of the Somme.
At Dorking U3A’s January meeting, Barrie Friend, the group leader of its military history group, recalled in coolly precise detail the fates of the men of Dorking who fought and, all too often, died there. During the 141 days in the summer of 1916 the lives of over one million men were destroyed or maimed; allies and foes alike.
A total of 84 Dorking men died during the battle; 24 in the first day alone. Many lie where they fell, commemorated only as names on memorials.
Looking at key offensives within the greater battle, Barrie focused on the actual Dorking men directly affected, who they were, where they came from within the town and its surrounding areas, and how and when they died. This was added to by memories of members of the audience of grandfathers, uncles, cousins and their friends. These men had marched to war oblivious to the horrors ahead, all believing that it was the right thing to do and that it would ‘all be over by Christmas’.
Sadly, that was not to be. Barrie explained that the battles of the First World War were so destructive because the weapons used (eg, heavy artillery) and the mode of battle (trench warfare) had never before been experienced by the commanding officers. It was this inexperience that often drove such appalling losses.
Barrie’s talk was enthralling in its detail and deeply moving in its impact. ‘Lest we forget’.
• Barrie is planning a two-day tour of the Somme battlefields in September to visit the sites described in his talk. Read more…