In the Society’s collections, donated in 2013 by a Member, there is a map whose stark content portrays in few words except place names, the horrific effects of one of the longest and most haunting episodes in world history ”“ the Battle of the Somme.
The map belonged to our Member’s father who at the age of 16, after war was declared on 4 July 1914, waited until his 17th birthday a month later then, though he should have returned for one more year at school before hoping to read history at university, enlisted with many of his school friends. After military training he embarked for France with his Battalion in 1915 where he saw active service. This came to an abrupt end on 3 July 1916, the third day of the long Somme campaign, when he was wounded at Longueval (shown towards centre of this map) aged 18 years 11 months.
The wounds he sustained were caused by pieces of flying shrapnel embedding themselves in his right arm. His elbow was smashed and the shattered bones in upper and lower arm could not be re-joined by surgery. They remained disconnected for the rest of his long life. After a year in a nursing home (the large military hospital nearby was overfull) with his arm immersed for long hours in a saline solution to fight the festering wound infections, and with warnings from Doctors that they might have to amputate his lower arm and hand, his mangled arm was saved. By sheer perseverance he re-taught himself to write, even playing hockey for his County on the wing, but the thought of a return to school, then university, was understandably extinguished by his war time experiences. Instead, after convalescent time with relations and friends in Scotland, he joined the family firm. But each year saw him, ramrod straight, attending his village Remembrance Day commemoration – many childhood friends never returned from this conflict.
Several years after the end of WWI, he returned to the Somme to visit their graves. At the start of his visit, when staying in Amiens, he bought this map to guide him to the grave sites he sought. The vast extent of the carnage it revealed was something he never forgot.
The map, appears from the type of lettering used, to be based on French mapping of the period, and produced later as a civilian publication under the aegis of the British Vice Consul’s office in Amiens as a guide for those wishing to view the graves of the fallen. Although it has no date on it, it is thought to have been printed in the mid 1920s’s.
The Society has very few contemporary maps relating to WWI military operations in its collections and would welcome examples as donations, not least where their former ownership and storyline are known, as in this telling example.If you would like to make a donation please contact us.