We, the Dutch people, have never really experienced the horrors that the World War I brought along. With the excuse of being “neutral”, we were ignored by the German forces that cut straight through Belgium, without harming Holland.
Sabaton have written a song about the horrors of the First World War, ‘The Price Of A Mile’. It’s about all the young men being stuck in a trench, knee-deep in the muddy water. It was cold, it was filthy, everyone was afraid. People were dying out there. And if you didn’t die, you were going insane.
Here, in the Netherlands, we don’t have a memorial day for WWI, we don’t have monuments, or fallen soldiers we should honor. Something that strikes me as very odd and makes me realize that war is only a game of men, not a course of nature.
Recently there was a very good book I read by a Dutch author. He travels through Europe at the end of the 20th century to see what has changed, compared to early 1900. One of the things he comes across is, off course, WWI. A shocking chapter, I can tell you.
Never ever have I heard the stories so good and so real about the horrors that went on in Belgium and the north of France. About entire cities and villages in England being sent to the front, only to be slaughtered and never come home. It was not their fight, morale was low and hell reigned on the battlefield.
One story I recall very specifically is about the battle of the Somme river. This is seen as one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Entire British villages were recruit as volunteers for the battle because that would be good for the morale of the men. They should be together with the people they can be happy around.
When they arrived at the Somme, the tactics were as follows. The British fired every single mortar and grenade they had at the German trenches, believing the Germans could never survive such destruction. They were wrong. Most of the German soldiers were still alive and kicking.
And then came the real slaughter. Every twenty seconds, or so, there would be a row of British “soldiers” going “Over the top” to march and take German territory. And that’s what happened. German war diaries state that the British soldiers walked out of the trenches “As if they were taking a stroll in the park”. Without hesitation, the German forces took place behind their machine-guns, shooting every British soldier that came out of shelter.
The orders were clear, every set time there were a row of soldiers to go out, and that’s what happened. Despite their falling brothers, the commanders ordered the soldiers to go out and claim territory. British casualties on the first day? 57,470, of which 19,420 killed. The most losses in one day in the history of the British army.
Exactly that is why this war is so clearly a game of higher officials. Only one commander decided not to let his men get senselessly killed in this slaughter. He ordered to stand down and stay in the trench. He would be demoted after the war. The general who came up with this strategy was given multiple medals for his fantastic strategic plans.