Saracens and The Somme

‘The Somme,’ two words that have become far greater than the name of a small river in Picardy, Northern France. They are now often used as a shorthand for the very worst of the Great War; The privations of the men coupled with the incompetence of the generals and their seeming disregard for individual loss of life. What great irony then that the word Somme in Celtic means tranquility.

Ceremonies are taking place across the country on the evening (30th June) and in the morning (1st July) to mark the first day of the battle- often called the ‘bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.’ The description of The Somme as a battle is a confusing one, conjuring up images of a decisive day of reckoning such as an Agincourt or Bannockburn. The term campaign is perhaps then more appropriate, as it was not simply the first day, but a relentless meatgrinder that lasted until November.

What then of our Saracens there? So far we have not found a player that was a confirmed casualty on that first day. With more research time we hope to discover whether there were more players present, going ‘over the top’ to the sound of whistles along the line. Research from Catherine has though shown the campaign did claim the life of John Somervaille, of the 5th Rifle Brigade, who we believe was part of the large Scottish contingent to have played for Saracens between 1902-07. His death, recorded as on the 9th of October 1916, is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial and we will write more on his closer to this time.

It is important to remember finally this was not just a British tragedy, but one of many nations. This gains special pertinence at this time when the movement toward Britain’s continued European co-operation has been so dramatically altered, a co-operation that for all its fault has at least brought peaceful relations. On the Allied side substantially over half a million French and Commonwealth soldiers fell as well as British, whilst the total casualties for Germany topped a quarter of a million. Cemeteries such as Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery, Authuille, where French and British soldiers are buried side by side remember this partnership in tragedy.

There will be a 2 minutes silence on Friday 1st July at 7:28AM to commemorate those that fell.

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