Below is an excerpt from the diary of 2nd Lt. Roland Ingle, my Grandfather’s uncle, written in the days immediately preceding the start of the Battle of the Somme. In a long Sunday entry, Roland describes the ‘preliminary bombardment’, and thoughts on the imminent push.
Sunday 25th June 1916
I went up the hill again last night after mess – about 10pm; we could hear no noise down below, facing to the wind, but when I got up top, it was obvious that the bombardment was proceeding. Sharp flashes, like sheet lightnening, showed our guns firing – on right and left; our guns in front were silent just then. All along the horizon there were red flashes – not sharp and white like gun flashes, but just blazes with sometimes a little cloud above. It was, of course, a wonderful sight; flashes right and left caught your eye in quick succession. And all the time, beyond was the red burst of the shells falling on their target. I stood some time looking and two sergeants came up – we talked the usual gossip that we had all heard; any story passes these days and the funny thing is, on-one seems to mind if it is something in our favour or decidedly against us. It is a story or a rumour to carry on with – some things are true, but anyhow it is something to talk about. I have heard two distinct rumours that the anxious would find unpalatable – one , that a doctor…
… another, that our latest and most wonderful aeroplane has settled peacefully behind Hun lines. Nobody worries if they are true or not. As the time for us to move approaches, I suppose we shall be excited and nervous, but now for most people, and I should think for the most thoughtless and unimpressionable, it is just a contemplative pause and a rest. Excitement braces the muscles in healthy people, and that is the feeling you have at the thought of this ‘great push’ beginning. As I said before, as an alternative to trench warfare it is welcome – to me especially, with my doubtful powers of endurance.
Someone made the inevitable remark last night (I forgot to tell you I am in the headquarters mess of the batallion we are attached to) – that we are now taking part in what may be an historic event – for us personally, of course, historic but also possibly in years to come a historic event in The Great War. One man’s part in any move nowadays is so small that he is not likely to be nervous about the effect of his work on the final result; and fortunately the habit of “carrying on” – (that immortal phrase) – is by this time so engrained in him that in spite of great shattering of everything else he has a hope that he will be able to do it. And no-one should forget that a free throwing of yourself into a forward move gives the thing a momentum that nothing else can – beyond any mechanical discipline. If the least thoughtful could analyse his feelings, he would say, I suppose, that provided he was hitting hard he didn’t care what happened to him. And the men who are going to be knocked out in this push – there must be many – should not, certainly, be looked on with pity; because going forward with resolution and braced musceles puts a man in a mood to despise consequences; he is out to give more than he gets; he really dies fighting, and a man, who is used to sport, takes these things – even in the great chance of life and death – as “part of the game”.