Terrifying sight, sounds and smells of bloody battle bought to life in emotional account
'Tumultuous, tempestuous noise. Whistling, hissing, shrieking demons, hurtling impetuously on devil flights of hate towards their ultimate goal of death and destruction.Blastings and rendings, roaring and tearings, shouting and death-sobs. Stabbing flashes, bursting flames, streaks of brilliant light. Black night spreads her mantle over all.'
As the world remembers 100 years since one of the bloodiest battles in history, one private’s personal recollection of the terrifying sights, sounds and smells of the Battle of the Somme has been shared.
Pte George Mitchell was just 17-years-old when he was sent to the front line in the French battle in 1918.
The battle started on July 1 1916, finishing in November the same year.
While hundreds of thousands of young men made the ultimate sacrifice, Pte Mitchell survived, and a few short years later wrote an emotional account of his time.
Now the account has been shared by Pte Mitchell’s granddaughter, Nancy Taylor (61) from Oundle.
She said: “The account was alongside a diary from the war. He wrote the account in the 1920s. On the bottom he said it was to ‘allay bad memories.’”
In the account, titles ‘The Somme A Memory’ Pte Mitchell said: “One a.m. - The bombardment continues. Huddled together, we shout to each other what little we have to say, endeavouring to make ourselves heard above the never ceasing clamour and roar. A louder crash than before, and flames burst out in the wood, licking round the trees and crackling in the undergrowth.
“Two a.m. - Flames, leaping and roaring, scorching and burning. Blasts of hot air from the inferno’s mouth. Soaring sparks and burning twigs floating in the night sky. The wind fortunately blows to our rear, otherwise the trench would be untenable, and still noise, noise, tumultuous and uproarious, leaping and crashing all around.
“Three .a.m. - Thudding and trembling, quivering and quaking, Mother Earth receives the blows of the enemy guns. Bursting in front of us, crashing behind us, shrieking above us, and still we’re not hit. An earth-shaking roar, and burst of flame, and a stack of gas shells along the trench spreads itself in all directions, the splinters thudding into the trench all around. Suddenly a roar, growing in less than a second to a blasting
crashing crescendo, a sea of flame, the world collapses in sudden deadly blackness and oblivion, - then peace.”
Nancy said: “The account os so poetic, so vivid.
“He was only 17 at the time - it really helps bring home just how terrifying it would have been.
“He died when he was 78, but he never talked about his time in the war. He did say he had some shrapnel in his chin.
“He had three sons, and one died in the Second World War. It is very much a military family.”
The account will now be handed to the Imperial War Museum for further research.
Pte Mitchell’s writing finishes: “Four a.m. – noise, noise, booming and howling all round. A pale dim glow shows in the eastern sky. ‘Thank God’, we breathe, for we hope when dawn shows, Jerry will ease up his wind up strafe and give us a chance to get to the rear. Blood soaked first field dressings over face and hand. Nerves torn and rended to shreds, our chances seem feeble. No communication trenches here; it’s a case of over the top with the best of luck, round the wood, and past a derelict tank which serves Jerry as an aiming mark, and a mile across country to a main road which is regularly strafed, and an advance dressing station.
“Four Thirty a.m. – The pale light of dawn shows the charred and blackened remains of the wood with fires still burning in patches. The remains of the trench show up more clearly, and one can stumble along without tripping over shells and comrades. Khaki figures squatted about, cigarettes stuck in mouth. The bombardment ceases as suddenly as it began. One minute the devils are leaping and dancing, shouting and howling, booming and banging, crashing and blasting, filling the air with a hideous pandemonium, a veritable colossus of noise, then - a pop, a gradually increasing whistle, a shriek and a bang and a shell passes over our heads and bursts in the wood, – a boom and a rumble and the noise as of an express train passing through a tunnel, high in the air over our heads, and a shell from a heavy gun passes to its mark miles behind the line – and then the bombardment has ceased.
“Now looking along the line, we see isolated figures heave themselves out of the ground and start making their way across the top to the rear, hoping to make the journey before daylight fully appears. Two of us decide that it is now or never and climbing out of the trench, make our way round the wood and report the fate of the ration party to the support trench and get permission to retire to the advance dressing station, which eventually turns out to be the first stage of my second ‘Blighty’ trip.”