LAUGH OR CRY: OVER THE TOP

LAUGH OR CRY: PART XI

The general offensive thrust officers and men into hell on earth. However, as Peter Hart and Gary Bain show, Tommy’s ability to find the joke in anything persisted in these torrid times

British soldiers ‘go over the top’ along the Somme in one of the most eye-catching depictions of World War One. However, the photograph, taken by William Ivor Castle, actually shows a Canadian exercise near St Pol
MIRRORPIX/GETTY

On the Western Front, the British Army was on the offensive from 1915 to the end of 1917, and again in summer 1918. Alongside their allies they fought hard to eject the Germans from France and Belgium. And, although the trenches were grim, they saved lives.

Trenches shielded the men from the majority of artillery and machine gun fire by presenting a smaller, harder to hit target out of the line of sight. But, to take an opposing trench, they would have to forgo this protection and go ‘over the top’, exposed to a barren, wire-strewn wasteland, where a sodden crater might be the only cover against machine guns and pre-registered artillery – provided no lingering gas was thrown up when the stagnant water within was disturbed.

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