Over the Top


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2016 is the one hundredth anniversary of two of the bloodiest and most notorious battles of the First World War: Verdun and The Sommeas well as the end of the Gallipoli campaign.

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A deserted German trench on the Somme. image: Getty/Hutton Archives/Stringer

 

Together these long, drawn-out and brutal fights for territory came to epitomise for many the futility of war.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est”

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Verdun

 

 

Trench warfare also introduced the term ‘going over the top‘ into the modern lexicon.

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Going over the top at the Somme. image: ALAMY

 

 

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