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by John Masefield


The Old Front Line is a military history book by English poet John Masefield, first published in 1917.

The book is a description of the battlefield front-line from which the British Army attacked on the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, and as such is perhaps the first battlefield guide of the First World War.

Masefield had originally been asked to write a full account of the Battle of the Somme (in 1916 he had written a successful book on the Battle of Gallipoli) but the project fell through when he was refused access to official army documents.

All he was able to produce was his description of the battlefield as seen in 1917 following the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line.

Nevertheless, The Old Front Line is still frequently referenced today as an eye-witness description of the Somme terrain and it is written with lyrical prose that is rare in books on military history.

July 1st 1916 is a date that remains embedded in the British folk memory. It was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the day on which British and Empire troops suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, a third of them fatal.

In this evocative classic memoir John Masefield, the future Poet Laureate, describes the battleground over which the armies were to fight. He had spent months at the front and was familiar with the men, the trenches that they inhabited and the conditions that they endured. 'The Old Front Line' was written shortly after the battle, and this elegant account will still move the modern reader as well as providing a valuable guide for the many 21st century visitors to the battlefield.

The battle was the most terrible in British history. It killed or maimed over one million, two hundred thousand men, over half a million of them British. It has been said, with truth, that the flower of the British Empire died on the Somme. It broke the back of the German field army, and killed the cream of their infantry, the finest professional troops in Europe. For the men who fought there, and the nations they fought for, it was never the same after the Somme.

The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all the pleasant things, advanced across the No Man's Land to begin the Battle of the Somme.




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