By Liana Jacob
A GRIPPING new book written by a front-line officer describes the rough life of a British soldier during the Battle of the Somme and capture of Schwaben Redoubt in WW1.
Old black and white photographs show British soldiers training in gas masks and West Yorkshire soldiers training in English trenches.
Other pictures show a group of Yorkshire and Lancashire soldiers in their army uniform in France, 1916, and other snapshots reveal German soldiers operating a machinegun in a strongpoint, from which they could spray no-man’s land and any British infantry attack with bullets.
Another picture is of Captain Phillip Heath, a front-line British officer who survived the blood lettings of the Somme in 1916, Passchendaele in 1917 and the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918.
Captain Heath’s path through the killing fields of the First World War is told in his own words in We Were A Band Of Brothers, a new book by Brick Lane Publishing.
“I had the feeling, which I believe was shared by the others that we were a band of brothers so that every death in action of a man became a personal loss to us all,” Captain Heath said.
“My deepest private fear was that I might unexpectedly disgrace myself, and endanger the men I command, by breaking down or losing my head.”
Writing about an incident at Schwaben Redoubt near Thiepval in northern France, a notorious corner of the Somme battlefield in 1916, he said:
“I have never seen such a dreadful sight as that trench, which was about one-hundred yards long. It was crammed with corpses and bits of corpses scattered all over the place.”
The redoubt was a German strong point, a key point in a defensive fighting position which is the focal point of the overall defence line.
It formed part of the German defensive system in the Somme sector of the Western Front during World War I, consisting of machine-gun emplacements, trenches and dug-outs.
It was defended by the 26th Reserve Division, from Swabia in south-west Germany, which had arrived in the area during the First Battle of Albert in 1914.
The book’s Foreword was written by author and former journalist, Andrew Macdonald.
“Captain Heath’s easy-to-read memoir gives excellent insights into the experiences and thinking of a young officer in the trenches,” Andrew said.
“It also gives his historically valuable opinions on matters such as command, leadership, personality, character, morale and discipline, among many other aspects.
“We Were A Band Of Brothers is the story of one man’s war, but it could also be any man’s and for that reason it is essential.”
Dr Macdonald has also interviewed a good number of veterans of the First World War when he was a young man. Many of these men had fought on the Western Front, often not far from Captain Heath.
“By the time I met them, I was in my late teens and they were aged nearly one-hundred and in some cases older. I heard their stories and I saw the scars of bullet, bomb and bayonet on their limbs,” Andrew said.
“For me the First World War is not some sepia-toned story devoid of personality. For me it is rich with colour and personality.
“I know what it is like to sit with a veteran of the trenches and share in a joke, and to also at times to have seen the horror and grief that occasionally flashed back to these old men from the trials of their youth.”
The British escaped too quickly for the German machine gunners to fire for long before they were overrun.
On July 1, the 36th Division, an infantry division of the British Army which was formed in September 1914, lost 5,104 casualties.
We Were A Band Of Brothers was published by Brick Lane Publishing on June 10, 2017, and is available here: http://www.bricklanepublishing.com/we-were-a-band-of-brothers