The Writing of The First Day on the Somme - part 2

Posted on Friday 28th June 2013

the 'accidental author'
I had long since set up an ‘Ops Room’ in the poultry farm offices. On one wall I had pinned up the six Corps maps from the Official History showing the whole attack front of the Somme first day. Another map showed where I was carrying out my interviewing trips in Britain. Business visitors had been following the progress of my work for more than a year. It was at this time that one of them asked me, ‘Have you got a literary agent yet?’ I had never heard of such a person. It turned out that a close friend was one of the leading agents in London and he gave me an introduction. He was Michael Horniman of A. P. Watt and Son. In an initial telephone call it was arranged that I would send him an outline of the book. I still have his reply:
I am getting an opinion from an expert on the prospects for your book but I am afraid that they are not likely to be good. Presumably you know of Farrar-Hockley’s, Brian Gardiner’s, and John Harris’s books on the Somme Battle and it is doubtful whether there could be much of a market for a further book even if it incorporates new material as yours would. However, I will write to you again as soon as I hear what the expert has to say after seeing your synopsis.
On my next Egg Marketing Board visit to London I went to see Mr Horniman. He received me kindly. I cannot remember whether the expert’s reply was in yet; I have no record of that. But I naively asked him if he would represent me. I was taken aback by his reply: ‘Mr Middlebrook, I make my living out of handling saleable material. You have not yet convinced me that you have this. Write me five chapters and I will let you know.’
This was the first of two opinions from the established literary world that might have led me to give up. After all, I had achieved the interesting experience of the research and interviewing that had been my original ambition, and had carried out another interesting visit to the Somme to gather further information. But was I to settle for those results and not try to go for the book that John Howlett, Patrick Mahoney and many others hoped they were going to see one day?
I decided to accept the challenge – but not five chapters; I would write half of the eighteen planned chapters.

the first nine chapters
No one ever advised me on how to write; I just developed my own methods. I made no attempt to develop a distinctive style, just told the story in as simple a manner as possible. I was sure that the original material Patrick Mahoney and I had obtained from the Public Record Office and the personal accounts from the old soldiers would be sufficient merit for the book to be accepted by a publisher. I often felt that I was ‘constructing’ a book rather than writing one.
That did not mean that my spelling and punctuation were anywhere near acceptable twenty years after leaving school. I can tell two good stories against myself from my early writing days. The very first piece that I wrote, in my farm office, were some paragraphs describing the aims of the book. In my ignorance I did not realise that this, written by the author, should have been called the Introduction and that the Foreword to a book is a testimonial written by an outsider. I thought the latter term was the correct one. I took it through to Sonia, my business secretary, and she typed up what I had written. I took it home at lunchtime and proudly showed my wife the first actual writing I had produced after a long year and a half of preparation. Her response? ‘You can’t spell Foreword, can you?’ I had spelt it ‘Forward’. Am I the first author to have spelt the first word of a first book incorrectly? I crossed the word out in disgust and substituted ‘Introduction’.
The second story was the result of my distributing the first typed drafts of the chapters to six friends – John Howlett and his wife Margaret were two of them – who had consented to read them. Their comments were always useful. It was at the end of the third chapter, I think, that Anne Clarkson, schoolteacher wife of my poultry manager, wrote: ‘Have you never heard of semi-colons?’ It was sometimes hard for this businessman to re-learn the basics of written English.

how to bring in the men
I found out later that a publisher is not too concerned about an author’s failure to spell every word correctly or to understand every point of grammar and punctuation. Experts employed as copy editors can easily correct those mistakes. What a publisher wants is someone who can write a sound, interesting, original story. As I worked through the early chapters, I felt that the research and personal material, and my understanding of the structure of the Army, almost caused the book to be writing itself – except for two aspects that I gradually felt were becoming the cause of difficulty. Both concerned the manner in which the experiences of the individual soldiers should be treated.
At each morning’s writing, I had before me the first-hand accounts from interviews or correspondence with the Somme men. Initially, I turned these into third-person prose, using them as examples of events of the battle. But I remember clearly one morning looking at what I had just written in this way and thinking, ‘Why am I turning such superb accounts into general writing and coming between the soldier and the reader? Why not let him speak directly to the reader?’ And that is what I did.
The results are to be seen all through the book. The original words were reproduced in the first person, with the man’s name and unit in brackets at the end of the passage. I also decided that, to keep alive the spirit of the ‘Pals’ type of battalion going into action for the first time, such units would be identified by the original titles adopted by them when they were raised, rather than the Army’s titles given when they were taken over by county regiments several months later. In this way, the 15th West Yorks were described as ‘The Leeds Pals’ and the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers as the ‘1st Tyneside Scottish’ etc.
The use of the direct quotations worked very well and I used the same method in every book I subsequently wrote that contained personal material, although I later came to believe that putting the contributor’s name at the end of the passage was not the best way of naming that person (I had lady contributors in later books) and that introducing the name and unit before the quotation was better. Looking through my later books, I see that it was nearly ten years later, in The Battle of Hamburg, that I started to make the change.
Another mistake I made was to use abbreviations for ranks, thinking that a publisher would like the author to save as much space and, thus, cost as possible. It was only later that I realised that a good publisher does not worry about the cost of the handful of extra pages required to produce as ‘clean’ a manuscript as possible. I see that I ceased using abbreviations for ranks in my second book, The Nuremberg Raid.
The second difficulty I identified was that, while the first-hand accounts of my contributors described the battle so vividly, they were describing the battle though the eyes of the survivors and did not sufficiently convey to the reader the sense of tragedy in the loss of individual life. I decided to introduce a group of individuals who would enter the story, not through quotations, but in normal prose form. The reader was supposed to become identified with them as individuals who would suffer a variety of experiences, including that of sudden death. Instead of the reader just being told that so many thousand men in a division or hundred in a battalion were killed or wounded, I wanted the reader to be suddenly saddened that men such as a Nottinghamshire miner with a large family, a Belfast apprentice and an over-age stockbroker from Surrey could suddenly have their lives snuffed out.
I stopped writing and carried out a great deal of new work identifying a group of such men and obtaining further information on them to give them the necessary depth of character. Several men were visited again. I tried to assemble a group who would mathematically represent the units, ranks and experiences of the men who took part in the battle. I originally had fourteen men in the group, one for each main division in the front line on July the First, but I cut them down to twelve because I did not think the reader could carry fourteen in their mind through the chapters. I later reduced them down to ten for the same reason. The two cut out at that stage were Private Harry Bloor of the Acrington Pals and Private Tom Easton of the Tyneside Scottish. The long car journeys made to Lancashire and Northumberland for their extra material were not entirely wasted; several good new quotations were obtained and enriched the regular parts of the book.
But Reginald Bastard, Percy Chappell, Philip Howe, ‘Paddy’ Kennedy, Dick King, Billy McFadzean, Albert McMillan, Charles Matthews, Bill Soar and Henry Webber were all introduced – two to be killed, one wounded and one taken prisoner on the day; one more to be killed, one more wounded and two more taken prisoner later, leaving only Percy Chappell and ‘Paddy’ Kennedy from my representatives of ‘The Army of 1916’ still at the front at the end of the war.
It was an unorthodox and, possibly risky, method but it seems to have worked. No one has ever criticised me for it, but I never used that device again.

the literary agent
I finished the first nine chapters and took them to London, with a synopsis of the remaining chapters, and left them with Michael Hornimam. This was what he wrote to me a few days later:
On the credit side, I can report that I read your first nine chapters of The First Day on the Somme with much interest. On the other hand I must confess that I still feel some of the doubts which I first expressed to you. Specifically, I am not sure what market there is for this book. However, there are four publishers in particular whom I think may be interested and whom I propose to approach. I am sending your typescript to the first one today, having ascertained on the telephone that he would indeed like to consider it.
Well, at least he had accepted me as one of his authors! There was a temporary shock when he told me that the publisher concerned was Penguins. I had hoped for a hardback publication, not paperback, but he soon explained that it was the Penguin Group, one of the foremost in the publishing business, and that, if a publication was to come, it would be by their hardback imprint, Allen Lane, the founder of Penguins.

the publisher
Michael – we were soon on Christian name terms – told me that he expected Penguin’s answer in about a month. I actually had to wait for thirteen weeks. I became very anxious. I was eventually asked to go to Penguin’s offices in London to meet a Mr James Price. Patrick Mahoney, who had almost adopted the book as partly his own, came with me and waited outside while my meeting took place. Mr Price explained why there had been a delay. The chapters and synopsis had been sent to one of his regular military historian authors for an opinion and he had been waiting for the result. James – the Christian name terms came later here as well – had copied the long reply, cut off the address at the top and the signature at the bottom, and he gave me the copy to read. I have it in front of me as I type this story.
The advice was not encouraging:
'Is there a market for another book on the Somme unless it has important new historical material or something new in the way of a viewpoint to offer?'
'I don’t doubt the chaps Middlebrook has hunted up are unique to him, and therefore fresh, but what they say is pretty familiar stuff, from Sassoon and Williamson onwards.'
'He tends to repeat all the old bromides about the high command and the cavalry…'
‘His account of the army’s organisation and of the trench system, and the situation in France generally, is really like a child’s guide’.
And so on:
‘Flat and boring in the narrative’, ‘owlish self confidence’, ‘not exciting enough to attract or hold the general reader’, ‘I am left with a sense of mistrust, both of knowledge and judgement’.
I concede that parts of the criticism were justified; I was inexperienced at that time and the book would need a lot of work doing on it before it was fit for publication. But here was an established historian judging my work by the standards of his own approach to history. He referred to ‘a book on the Somme’, without realising that I was writing only about that dramatic first day, surely worthy of a book on its own. He quoted the works of such as Sassoon and Williamson that he saw as having satisfactorily covered the subject of the personal experiences of the wartime men. But Sassoon and Williamson were both officers and most other memoirs were by officers. Could my critic not see that there was a mass of ‘other ranks’ who had to implement the plans and suffer the consequences of the generals that he and his fellow historians spent their working lives studying? Could he not see that I was trying to write a new sort of book for a new sort of reader?
But James Price had recognised those points. I was to be given a contract and Penguins would publish the book. There were conditions. I had not up to that point invested the time and money to cover the Ulstermen of the 36th Division who had done so well at Thiepval, or any of the men from the German regiments facing the attack on the July the First frontage. I was to remedy this. Also, he wanted me to expand the existing British first-hand material; could I find another hundred men who had been in the battle?
I agreed to all of these reasonable and sensible requests. I went and told Patrick; we went and had a modest drink.
I still have the contract negotiated by Michael Horniman, dated 30 December 1969, just over two years since the visit with John Howlett to the Somme and eighteen months after finishing John Harris’s Covenant with Death and my declaration that I was going to write a book. I was to receive an advance of £750, but not until the book was published. In fact, Michael Horniman arranged interim payments to be made when it became obvious that I was fulfilling my part of the agreement. I also have a note that my expenses amounted to £1,833.24 by the time the book was published.
It was a standard contract. The advance would be deducted from future royalties. The royalty rate would be 10 per cent of the hardback retail price, rising to 12 ½ per cent after 4,000 copies were sold (that sales figure was never reached). A paperback deal might be arranged after two years at 7 ½ per cent royalty, rising to 10 per cent after 30,000 copies (it took 25 years to reach that figure). If I were to write another book (I had no plans to do so) Penguins were to have first option.
I have much to thank both Michael Horniman and James Price for. The first publisher who had seen my raw, incomplete typescript had accepted me, a complete novice author. I have always said that James Price’s decision to pay for an expert opinion and then back his own judgement represented the best tradition in publishing. Both men had also made good commercial judgments; Penguins are still making profits from the paperback edition of the book more than thirty years later and Michael Horniman’s successors still collecting their 10 per cent commission.
Who was the ‘expert’? I believe that it was Correlli Barnett who had a book, Britain And Her Army being prepared for publication by Penguins at that time. I hold no grudge against him for his views. Much of his criticism was valid and I reacted by working hard to prove him wrong.
(After writing the above, I decided to contact Correlli Barnett, sending him a draft of the relevant passages and giving him the opportunity to comment. I received a prompt reply. He confirmed that he was the writer of that opinion more than thirty years ago. He also gave a robust reaffirmation of his views then and stated that he still held them as firmly now. He had no objection to my including them in this web article.)

back to work
I went to Northern Ireland and interviewed the Ulstermen. I remember being shocked at rows of recently burned out terrace houses in Belfast and being advised to remove the GB sticker on my car when I stayed overnight in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. I also travelled right out to Clifden on the Connemara coast in the Republic to visit Lieutenant-Colonel Irwin of the 8th East Surreys to obtain fuller details of the Captain Nevill football story.
I advertised in German newspapers where the Regiments facing the British on July the First had originated. Because the Germans had been outnumbered seven-to-one that day and I was not expecting anything from East Germany, the response was modest. To get the best from the small number of replies, I decided that I should visit them all. But I did not speak German at that time. Most of the replies were from the American military zone so I approached their Military Attaché in London and asked if a German-speaking officer could be detached for what I thought would be an interesting few days for him or her. I said that I would pay all expenses. The reply, in what I detected as a southern U.S. accent, ‘Sir, we do not hire out our soldiers’.
I then approached the Ministry of Defence in London and asked for an interview with the Army’s Director of Public Relations, hoping that an officer from BAOR could be provided for the trip. Who turned out to be the Director? Brigadier Anthony Farrar-Hockley! He could not have been more helpful. He did not follow the BAOR route but put me in touch with a post-graduate Oxford German linguist who ‘for a Fiver and his expenses’ would gladly carry out the task. His name was Tom Steele. I must pay credit to Anthony Farrar-Hockley for his generosity of spirit in helping a project that might have seemed to be a rival to his own book on the Somme.
Patrick Mahoney had been promised a tour of the Somme as reward for all his earlier research efforts. A combined tour was arranged – Germany and the Somme – and off the three of us went with me driving. It went perfectly, despite some tricky navigation problems in Karlsruhe and a rude, deliberately unhelpful, photo archivist at Munich. The German ex-soldiers cooperated fully; they were amazed that someone had come from England to talk to humble soldiers from the Somme of more than half a century earlier. Tom Steele’s interpreting was excellent. We returned via the Somme and Patrick got his promised tour of the battlefield. He had rung the AA before leaving England, asking what was the best restaurant in the Somme area so that he could treat Tom and myself to dinner there. And so we dined at the famous Godbert’s in Amiens and were hospitably looked after by the lady owner; she invited us to add our names to her Visitors Book. We were fortunate; the restaurant closed a few years later.
(Tom Steele’s name was thus added to the growing list of people who were helping my book forward. We remained in touch. When his first child, Harriet, was born, Tom and his wife Margaret asked me to be godfather. I recently took the now charming young lady to lunch in Soho, and the family even more recently gave me hospitality at their home in Wimbledon when my wife had a serious operation in London.)
The final part of the bargain with Penguin’s James Price was to find another hundred British contributors. I did that. The eventual tally of participants from July the First was 535 British, Ulster and Newfoundland and 20 Germans.
I finished writing the book, a task that involved much insertion of new material and some revision. I drew the maps. My brother-in-law, Ted Sylvester, redrew them to architectural accuracy. Penguins provided a professional cartographer, Leo Vernon, who brought them up to professional publishing standard. Once again, I found myself working with someone who could not have been more helpful. The maps went backwards and forwards for increasingly minor changes. Some of the consultations took place in the Waiting Room at Hitchin Station. I broke my Egg Board journeys to London there; Leo lived there. Photographs were assembled and captions written. But work was far from finished.
I should explain that the manuscript of a book normally goes through two editing processes. (It is actually a ‘typescript’ following the invention of the typewriter, but publishers usually use the older term.) A ‘commissioning editor’ goes though the manuscript and advises on the content. He can insist upon alterations because the contract says that the publishers will definitely publish the book ‘provided the manuscript is delivered to their satisfaction’. Enter David Thompson, the commissioning editor appointed to this task. I pass quickly over the gruelling process where he coerced me into corrections, clarifications, expansions or reductions to the manuscript. These consultations usually took place in the Members Room at the Egg Marketing Board’s offices at Shaftesbury Avenue on days when no Board meetings were taking place. I remember the last confrontation when the points at issue had dwindled to six in number. After a process of give and take, those final points were settled. I later found out that it was David Thompson who had seen my initial first chapters and synopsis and recommended the book’s potential to James Price. I never met David again but the book may never have been published without his initial faith in it and would not have been so good without his editing.
After the necessary delay for typesetting, the galley proofs arrived with instructions to check carefully and return within a certain number of days. It was then that I saw what the copy editor had done to my typescript. I was horrified at the way he had instructed my abbreviations in capital letters to be set. I learned then the terms ‘upper case’ and ‘lower case’. He (or she; I never met him/her) had used lower case for most of the capitals. Look in the book and see how ridiculous the plurals of such abbreviations as N.C.O., H.Q., and C.C.S. look in the copy editor's lower case form.
If I had been more experienced I would have insisted on changes but I felt – probably unjustly - that Penguins were becoming concerned at the long progress of and cost of the pre-publication process. It was a mistake I never repeated; I learned to stand my ground with copy editors in later years.
Mary, my ever-helpful wife, helped with the vital task of proof reading. Then the publishers asked if I would like to do the index or have it done by a professional for which I would have to pay. I decided to do it myself. Someone had told me that one indication of the merit of a book is the depth of detail in the index. Instead of just a long list of page numbers after a prominent entry, there should be sub-divisions. I decided to give the index the full treatment; I notice that ‘Haig, Gen. Sir Douglas’ has fifteen sub-divisions. So, another two or three weeks followed with a table full of index cards and scattered notes. Mary, together with my daughters Jane, Anne and Catherine, were valued helpers at this boring task.
Eventually all was finished, packed up and taken to London to be handed over to Penguins.

The book was published on July the First, 1971. It was three years and three months since I had declared my intention to write a book. There was no launching party in London, only a modest family lunch celebration in Boston. Penguin’s Publicity Department worked hard with some success. There were a few national reviews, mainly in specialist magazines rather than the press, although Roy Hattersley published a favourable review in The Guardian. Anthony Farrar-Hockley was also complimentary, although he wrote that he would have preferred to see the formal Army titles of battalions rather than the ‘Pals’ type titles I had used. John Keegan wrote me a complimentary letter. By contrast, John Terraine would make several critical comments in print in the following years, and the few occasions on which we met were never warm ones.
The book received a warm reception in the Northern cities from which the Pals-type battalions came. There were good reviews in their local papers and a small round of local television and radio interviews. Considering that it was my first book and that I had no real literary pretensions, I was well satisfied and very pleased to see the book in that well produced Allen Lane hardback imprint. Penguins very generously gave a stock of free copies for distribution to my contributors. I inscribed each one to the man’s participation in the battle, mentioning his unit, and I know from subsequent contacts that they became family heirlooms. The published price of that hardback in 1971 was £3.95; the second-hand value of a copy of that first edition can now be in excess of £30. One aspect of the book that does distress me is that I was told that the market value of medals for men killed on July the First, 1916, became higher than those who died on other days of the war.
the aftermath (if you look in any of my books, you will see that i usually have an aftermath chapter)
It was soon after publication day that Michal Horniman almost casually informed me that he had sold the American rights to W. W. Norton
I had intended to return full time to my poultry business after The First Day on the Somme but that news from America led me to write two more books. I had satisfied my curiosity about a great battle on land in the First World War. I would turn to the Second World War and write books on the air and sea war. In this way The Nuremberg Raid and Convoy were published in 1973 and 1976. Not only did Morrows of New York take both books but a Berlin publisher, Ullstein, took them as well. I realised that I had become established. I was enjoying the work. I left my poultry business in the hands of managers and continued writing.
There was a further development. Around 1980 a small group of friends in Boston asked me to take them to the Somme. They paid me £5 and my expenses, just as I had paid Tom Steele to come with me as interpreter to Germany ten years earlier. A small commercial tour operator then paid me £25 a day to be the guide on two of his tours to the Somme. I decided that I could supplement my income and take up an interesting new career by setting up my own small touring organisation. My first tour took place in May 1984 with fourteen customers. I had no idea how long there would be a market for this activity; if I had been forced to put an estimate I would have said about five years. I retired from touring in September 2004, aged 72, after carrying out about a hundred tours to various destinations from the Somme to Gallipoli!
The accidental, almost casual, way in which I fell into writing military books and then battlefield touring turned out to be a boon. The introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy sharply raised the price at which my business was buying wheat for milling into poultry food. My business failed. It was my ‘books and battlefields’ career that kept me financially solvent for the remainder of my working life.
the first day on the somme's career
I still have all my sales records. The book sold 41,545 copies during the first five years. It seems an impressive figure but more than 80 per cent of the sales were to Book Clubs. The American Military Book Club took a huge 30,000 copies! (Book Club deals are a mixed blessing, beloved of publishers who can extend their print run and thus reduce the unit price, but not popular with this writer who objects to seeing his hardback copies sold at a cut price and earning only a tiny royalty - only 7 pence per copy after agent’s commission in that five-year period, compared with about 35 pence for the same book for a regular bookshop sale.) Penguins own hardback sales numbered 4,800 during that period and Morrow’s U.S. edition 3,075. I note that, to help keep the book in print, I bought a hundred copies from Penguins in 1975 for my private sales without taking a royalty. Penguins held the paperback rights and had said that they might consider publication ‘a few years after the hardback publication’, but nothing happened in those five years.
The second five years brought mixed results. Total sales were just under 20,000 copies. The Penguin hardback only sold about 400 copies a year. British Book Clubs took just over 5,000 copies but many of these were being sold as £1 a copy as loss leaders. Sales by the Americans had ceased completely. Penguin declined to publish a paperback but Michael Horniman arranged for Fontana to take the paperback rights. They printed 12,000 copies and sold them – at £1.50 each – but they did not reprint and their rights lapsed. Sales figures for each of my next three titles - all Second World War books – had already overtaken those for The First Day on the Somme.
Things went very quiet for the next twenty years and I thought at first that the life of my first book was approaching the end. British hardback sales numbered 2,633 and I see that again I kept the print run going by buying 600 of these myself. In the last six years of the hardback run, regular sales were only about 50 copies a year and Book Clubs took 2,250 copies, but the hardback print run finally expired in 1993. Penguins did, however, at last exercise their paperback option in 1984, thirteen years after the hardback publication! There was now a growing interest in the Western Front. Schools were covering the First World War; family history was a growing hobby; a ‘Western Front Association’ of enthusiasts had been formed in 1980. That Penguin paperback has been in print ever since, selling a steady 2-3,000 copies a year.
Then something extraordinary happened. Twenty years after its formation, the Western Front Association’s website conducted a survey, asking visitors to the site to name their five favourite First World War books in order of preference. More than 60 people responded. (I took no part; I was not ‘into’ computers at that time.) In an attempt to find what was described as the 'Real Top Five', the preferences were then added up, with five points being allocated to a first choice, four to a second etc. The results were posted on the website on 26 December 2001. It turned out to be a great Christmas present for me.
I was delighted to find that The First Day on the Somme topped the list, but I was amazed at the extent of the lead. I had 99 points; the next four choices scored 39, 36, 27 and 26. (They were Her Privates We by Frederick Manning, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon, They Called it Passchendaele by Lyn Macdonald and Goodbye to all That by Robert Graves.) The entire list contained 124 titles. Of those who had not approved of my book initially, John Terraine’s six entries scored 17 points in total; Correlli Barnett’s single entry – The Swordbearers, published nearly ten years before The First Day on the Somme - received one point. But Correlli Barnett, in his recent letter, says that 'The popularity of a book is no measure of its worth as history'. He may be right.
I sent a copy of the results to Penguins, pointing out that a generation of readers had not had the opportunity to buy a new hardback of The First Day on the Somme, and asking them to republish the title in hardback. They declined and the hardback rights reverted to me. I then sent the survey to Pen and Sword Books, a specialist military publishing firm whose offices are in an old Territorial Army Drill Hall at Barnsley – great people to deal with – and they did agree. In this way, thanks to the ‘voters’ on the Western Front Association website, The First Day on the Somme was reborn in hardback, thirty-one years after the original Allen Lane imprint. I have also just signed a modest contract with a Dutch publisher, Uitgeverij Aspekt of Soesterberg, for a translation and publication of The First Day on the Somme, 32 years after Morrows of New York published the only other overseas version!

Total sales of The First Day on the Somme so far are 129,599. Only one of my other titles, The Nuremberg Raid, my long-term bestseller, now exceeds this figure and it is likely to be overtaken soon. I am very much in debt to those men present ‘on the Somme’ on that ‘first day’ who contributed to my book, and to my family and many good friends from John Howlett and Patrick Mahoney onwards who supported and helped me – and, perhaps most of all, to my readers.


'No one ever advised me on how to write; I just developed my own methods... I was sure that the original material Patrick Mahoney and I had obtained form the PRO and the personal accounts from the old soldiers would be sufficient merit for the book to be accepted by a publisher... It was at the end of the third chapter, I think, that the wife of my poultry manager wrote: "Have you never heard of semi-colons?"'

Martin working in Hamburg.

'I decided to introduce a group of individuals who would enter the story, not through quotations, but in normal prose form. The reader was supposed to become identified with them as individuals who would suffer a variety of experiences, including that of sudden death. Instead of the reader just being told that so many thousand men in a division or hundred in a battalion were killed or wounded, I wanted the reader to be suddenly saddened that men such as a Nottinghamshire miner with a large family, a Belfast apprentice and an over-age stockbroker from Surrey could suddenly have their lives snuffed out.'

the changing face of the first day on the somme



Two Martins at Thiepval, 1 July 1996.

'I decided that I could supplement my income and take up an interesting new career by setting up my own small [battlefield] touring organisation. my first tour took place in May 1984 with 14 customers... I retired from touring in September 2004, aged 72, after carrying out about 100 tours to various destinations from the Somme to Gallipoli!'

A particular favourite of the author, this photograph was taken on a tour to the Somme in 2005. The cemetery is Aveluy Wood (Lancashire Dump) Cemetery.

'I must pay credit to Anthony Farrar-Hockley for his generosity of spirit in helping a project that might have seemed to be a rival to his own book on the Somme.'

Further Reading

The First Day on the Somme
(Hardback - 384 pages)
ISBN: 9781844154654

by Martin Middlebrook
Only £19.99

After an immense but useless bombardment, at 7.30 am. On 1 July 1916 the British Army went over the top and attacked the German trenches. It was the first day of the battle of the Somme, and on that day the British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, two for every yard of their front. With more than fifty times the daily losses at El Alamein and fifteen times the British casualties on D-day, 1 July 1916 was the blackest day in the history of the British Army. But, more than that,…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

more books by martin middlebrook...

Further Reading

The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields
(Hardback - 400 pages)
ISBN: 9781844155330

by Martin & Mary Middlebrook
Only £25.00

While best known as being the scene of the most terrible carnage in the WW1 the French department of the Somme has seen many other battles from Roman times to 1944. William the Conqueror launched his invasion from there; the French and English fought at Crecy in 1346; Henry V’s army marched through on their way to Agincourt in 1415; the Prussians came in 1870.

The Great War saw three great battles and approximately half of the 400,000 who died on the Somme were British – a…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Further Reading

Arnhem 1944
(Hardback - 501 pages)
ISBN: 9781848840751

by Martin Middlebrook
Only £30.00

Arnhem was meant to end the war in Europe. The Germans were in retreat from Normandy and seemed to be beaten. Three airborne divisions were to seize the bridges across the great rivers of Holland and unleash the Allied armies into Germany. The Battle of Arnhem was a turning-point in the war, a gamble by Montgomery, using three airborne divisions to capture a series of bridges across the wide rivers that separated a powerful mobile army from the plains of northern Germany. If the bridges had been captured and held,…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Further Reading

Argentine Fight for the Falklands
(Paperback - 336 pages)
ISBN: 9781844158881

by Martin Middlebrook
Only £16.99

Martin Middlebrook is the only British historian to have been granted open access to the Argentines who planned and fought the Falklands War. It ranks with Liddell Hart's The Other Side of the Hill in analysing and understanding the military thinking and strategies of Britain's sometime enemy, and is essential reading for all who wish to understand the workings of military minds.

The author has managed to avoid becoming involved in the issue of sovereignty and concentrates entirely upon the military story. He has produced a genuine…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

The First Day on the Somme did overtake The Nuremberg Raid in 2008 and has now sold 140,795 copies according to the most recent royalties return.

Further Reading

The Nuremberg Raid
(Hardback - 366 pages)
ISBN: 9781844158751

by Martin Middlebrook
Only £19.99

This book describes one twenty-four-hour period in the Allied Strategic Bomber Offensive in the greatest possible detail. The author sets the scene by outlining the course of the bombing war from 1939 to the night of the Nuremberg raid, the characters and aims of the British bombing leaders and the composition of the opposing Bomber Command and German night fighter forces.

The aim of the Nuremberg raid was not unlike many hundreds of other RAF missions but, due to the difficulties and dangers of the enemy defences…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Of further interest...