Ireland’s Wars: The End Of The Somme

September was wearing on, and the weather was getting steadily worse, but the Somme campaign continued. The 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions had share their share of the fighting (and the casualties) but plenty of other Irish units separate to them  – or the original “named” regiments –were fighting and dying on the Somme.

One of them was the Irish Guards, who had entered the fray properly during the fighting around Ginchy and then advanced again on the 25th September, as part of the larger Guards Division’s assault on Lesboeufs. The attack on this area was part of the larger Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a combined British-French assault that aimed to push on from the capture of Guillemont and Ginchy and take the next section of German lines, the last of those kind of assaults that would take place during the Somme. Lesboeuf had already been the target of assault, none of which had been successful.

The Irish Guards were in the support phase of the attack, carried out primarily by battalions of the Coldstream Guards, but they were caught in an intense German artillery bombardment as they moved forward behind their own creeping barrage. Between that, repeatedly having to pause to deal with defensive impediments and the machine gun fire, the advance was brutally slow and costly, but the first trench lines were reached. Before long, the casualties that had been incurred were so large that the various regiments of the Division in combat melded into ad-hoc combined units to consolidate the gains and resist the German counter-attacks, By the end of the day, the 2nd battalion of the Irish Guards had less than 170 men left, but the objective had been taken. However, the larger point of the whole operation fell to the wayside due to failures elsewhere, that prevented any hoped for rout of the enemy.

This assault is notable for probably being the first time that Irish units went into battle supported by the latest military innovation set to change the face of warfare (eventually): the tank. The new trundling machines made their first battlefield appearance during the Somme, albeit one of limited effectiveness, as the vehicles were slow, prone to breakdown and often ended up being death-traps for the crews inside.

Much of what was left of the battle involved desperate efforts to capture new tracks of high ground that had come within attacking range, such as those at Thiepvel or near the Ancre River, with a heightened sense of urgency given the nature of the changing weather and the reality that soon further offensive operations would be made impossible. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were some of the next Irish units involved in these attacks as the fighting moved up into October, launching offensives from the Lesboeufs area, towards sections of the German trench line code-named “RAINY” and “DEWDROP”. German gunners withheld their fire during the Fusiliers’ advance, before opening up when they were massed in their sights. Going on the attack was at least pro-active, as otherwise they merely stayed in place in captured trench line and withstood a constant artillery bombardment. The Fusiliers took nearly 400 casualties as part of their efforts, and were forced backwards. Having suffered so many casualties during their time in the line, the 1st battalion had to be withdrawn from the front entirely.

One of the last co-ordinated British offensives of the battle was the effort to take Le Transloy, wherein the Allies would essentially reach the high water mark of the campaign. The 2nd battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers took part in the fighting, again operating from near Lesboeufs, and subsequently aimed at German machine gun nests and other strongpoints, positions they were only partially able to take, with German machine gunners again waiting until the last moment to concentrate fire. The advance had been delayed until late afternoon, in the hope that hanging mist would dissipate, but it did not. Le Transloy would remain outside of the Allies’ gains as the fighting drew to a close.

One of the last Irish units to be engaged in the battle was the 10th battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, a unit that had already seen fighting before the Somme, indeed, before they had even gotten to France, having been employed as part of the British counter-response to the Easter Rising. Due to quirks in the operational reality for the British Army – the disbanding and merging of reduced regiments across the board – when the 10th Dublins arrived in the Somme, it was as back up to the 63rd (Royal Navy) Division, a unit made of Navy and Marines volunteers and reservists not needed for naval service. Their casualties had been so extensive that regular infantry now had to fill the gaps. That, and in the aftermath of the Rising, British high command were reluctant to place more Irish units together, at least in the short term.

The Battle of the Ancre, which followed the Battle of the Ancre Heights, was the last significant engagement of the Somme campaign. By now it was November, and the fighting was talking place during snowfalls, the misery of the mud and the shelling compounded by the bitter cold. This final offensive, using units of the British Reserve Army, was inherently limited in nature, designed to help pave the way for assaults in the new year, and to force the Germans to maintain troop deployments on the western front for the benefit of allies elsewhere.

The 10th Dublins attacked German trenches near Beacourt on the 13th of November, on the northern section of the campaign front. Beacourt should have been taken in the first days of the campaign, but the general failure of the northern half meant it still lay in German hands. The tanks supporting the attack became stuck in mud. The 10th sustained brutal casualties – nearly 50% of the battalion strength – but took their objectives over two days of hard fighting.

The Battle of the Somme ended only a few days later, with the loss of life and terrible weather preventing the possibility of further attacks. Over a million men on all sides had become casualties: Somewhere in the region of 30’000 of these had been Irish or been from Irish “named” regiments. In return for this, the Allies had advanced little more than six miles at the deepest point of penetration.

Intense debate has raged in the century since the Somme, discussing whether the battle had been worth it, and whether it could be called an Allied victory. Certainly, the Allies gained ground, and at a rate that they had been unable to since the trenches had first been dug. It is also important to note that the mass casualties were more keenly felt by the Germans, who could not as easily replace the soldiers killed there as Britain or France could (having, at the time, still a war against Tsarist Russia to fight). The British Army, so largely inexperienced before the battle started, gained a lot of insight into how industrial warfare had to be fought.

But was all that worth the 623’000 Allied casualties? And the casualties incurred in the Battle of Verdun fought further south? It is the personal opinion of this writer that it was not, though that is an opinion coloured by the 20:20 provided by hindsight. Taking such meagre amounts of ground at such an expense of blood should never be deemed acceptable, even in the pursuit of the sometimes legitimate strategy of attrition. The attacks on the 1st of July should have been better organised through the use of shorter-term hurricane bombardment and better infantry tactics, and when that attack failed a more considered re-appraisal of what to do with the offensive should have been carried out, rather than the continued frontal assaults that resulted in so much bloodshed.

The 36th and 16th Divisions had been shattered, but both would fight again, and before too long. 1916 had been a terrible year on the western front, and 1917 presaged little better. Across the various fronts of the First World War, Irish regiments would have to steel themselves to the continuing reality of the war, and the fighting that was yet to come.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: Despicable Me 3, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Paddington 2

Three films that I’ve caught over the course of the year today, all of the child-friendly variety.

Despicable Me 3

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The varying reactions to this movie.

Life is all swell for reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) and new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), living with adopted children Margo (Mirada Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) and working for the “Anti Villain League”. But after a botched operation results in the escape of 80’s themed bad guy Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), the newly-weds are fired. At a low ebb, Gru is stunned to discover a long-lost brother (also Carell) and must evaluate whether he is truly hero or still just a villain.

I said before seeing #2 in this franchise that I worried about fatigue, cashing in, and the general malaise after evident in sequels that don’t have the Pixar brand name on them, but I was thankfully proven wrong that time. And I’ve said before that the Minion craze has its limits. And while Despicable Me 3 has its moments, it has all of those problems in places too.

The attempt to freshen things up by having Gru be an outright hero is nixed fairly quickly, and from there we’re into the realm of “Will he/won’t he?” in terms of his potential return to villainy. The relationship with rather, ahem, “quirky” brother Dru is a bit random – he seems to be in the story because you need to start throwing in more family characters in a third one as much as anything else – and a sub-plot involving Lucy trying to be a stepmother is really hit and miss. Randomly enough, we also have little Agnes looking for a unicorn to fill in some screen-time. So, in story terms, the fatigue is very obvious, as is the space filling.

If you’re looking for things to alleviate that, well step forward Trey Parker, in one of the last franchises I would have expected someone of his background to show up. His Bratt is a delight, an 80’s child star turned adult delinquent, a bizarrely effective supervillain who blows bubble gum wile dancing around his heist jobs. The film is at its comedic best whenever Bratt is just talking to himself, and at times the rest of the cast appear to be intruding on his good time. And there are the Minions of course, back to being their charming selves, and doing what they do best by inhabiting small chunks of screen time, as filler material in-between scenes.

Visually, it’s the same thing that we’ve seen before from Illumination, with this genre of animation long since past the point where this level of artistic detail is something to truly go gaga over (even 1995 was doing it better really). And Pharrell is back again with “Yellow Light”, but it doesn’t really hold a candle to “Happy”.

This is a franchise that will keep going and going of course, as long as little kids continue to go mad for those weird yellow dwarfs (a sequel to their rather tired adventure is likely to come first of course), but Despicable Me has reached the end of the line with me I feel. Three is a good number to end it on, regardless of whatever bits of levity briefly lift up the overall quality of this production.

The Lego Ninjago Movie

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The White Ninja is the best.

The citizens of Ninjago City live in constant fear of the latest assault from Lord Garmadon (Justin Theorux), often taking their frustration out on his estranged son Lloyd (Dave Franco). Unbeknownst to all of them, Lloyd is the Green Ninja, one of five Ninjas who use their martial arts skills and technological behemoths to fight the dark lord in secret. Guided by wise Master Wu (Jackie Chan), the team are soon sent on a difficult journey, where Lloyd is forced to deal with the fractured relationship he has with his father.

Following the success of the other two franchises using this artistic gimmick, you would start to wonder if Lego Movie’s are served well by jumping from property to property in an effort to keep things fresh. Because the visual element of the Lego movies is already starting to look a bit tired and jaded, a Michael Bay-esque hurricane of blocks and explosions, forming and reforming at speed, that sort of just makes your eyes want to vomit. Sure, that sense of creativity can still be ascertained – just about – but ultimately we’ve had three films that include large Lego cityscapes being torn apart and put back together again.

So, Ninjago needs to save itself in other ways and it kind of does? I’m not familiar with the TV series this is at least partially based on, but it’s a serviceable send-up of the ninja genre, injected with a healthy dose of pop culture references and somewhat absurdist humour (like Garmadon’s insistence that his sons name is pronounced “Le-loyd”). Indeed, the film makes you laugh if nothing else, my particular favourite being the clearly a robot and trying very badly to hide the fact White Ranger, and his collection of old ninja movies (that includes the classic I Told You You’re Wasting Your Time I’ve Left That Life Behind Me). The film is voice-acted well and scored competently, and while the unfolding story is predictable – intentionally so given the send-up that is happening – it’s something you can nod along to for an hour and a half.

Where the Ninjago Movie is actually sort of thoughtful is what it is seemingly trying to say about the nature of sundered father-son relationships. Lloyd wants a father, but is embittered at the villain his father really is; Garmadon has a hole in his life, but is so emotionally reckless with people that he can’t fill it. The roles are exaggerated – Garmadon literally has a volcano lair – but you can’t help but be a bit surprised at the way this film comes down on the issue, which appears, essentially, to be an endorsement of no-strings-attached reconciliation with deadbeat fathers.

Kids will presumably love it: the older crowd will wonder if they should have just gone to see Transformers instead, and seen more or less the same visual experience with more human actors (just about). What next for this franchise? Probably more of the same, and that’s not in keeping with good film-making or the ethos of the product on the label.

Paddington 2

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It is perfect.

Paddington Bear (Ben Whishaw) has settled into London life with Mr and Mrs Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins), daughter Judy (Madeline Harris) and son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), spreading his own brand of kindness and joy among the neighbourhood – except for cranky Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi). But when washed up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) steals an antique pop-up book Paddington was hoping to buy for his Aunt Lucy, he finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and forced to make allies behind bars to clear his name.

It is a joy sometimes to have a film like this to sit back and enjoy. Paul King’s follow-up to the 2014 version of the beloved children’s character – and the first was captivating enough – is actually that rarest of things, a sequel that is better than its original, perhaps because it doesn’t have to dedicate time to setting up the story it wants to tell. Instead, we are just shown this wonderfully positive, endearingly accepting and just nice to watch bear. A film that so emphasises the idea of kindness being a positive force in the community and in society at large is one that deserves some consideration, even if it’s being told through the lens of a clumsy anthropomorphised bear.

The subtler thing here of course is a pro-immigration, pro-tolerance message, that feels especially necessary when one looks at modern-day Britain. Paddington’s multi-ethnic neighbourhood contains the malicious Mr Curry, a reprobate who heads the self-created and fascistic sounding “Neighbourhood Defence Force”, describes Paddington as an “undesirable” and generally acts as a very loud minority that the rest of the residents try to ignore and seem hesitant to speak against. What Paddington is trying to say is not hard to discern, but it’s a rather well-done bit of social commentary.

Beyond that, the film is a delight on every level. The cast is having a ball: Hugh Grant especially throws himself in the role of villainous thespian Phoenix Buchanan (who has utterly mad imaginary conversations with the parts he played in his past) and Brendan Gleeson fits right in as a grizzled prison cook ignorant of the ways of marmalade. It’s written brilliantly, overflowing with warmth, humour and genuine feeling. And the plot, while hardly an earth-shattering example of the genre, is more than enough to keep you engaged, including a number of bizarre heists, a prison movie send-up and a surprisingly well-choreographed finale onboard a speeding train. The film will actually surprise you with the depth of its visual acumen: Paddington cavorts along a pop-up landscape, a prison escape sequence is a nice homage to Wes Anderson and London has never looked better.

A wonderful film, that almost came out too early – it’s perfect Christmas fare – that you should check out if feeling even slightly jaded or fed-up with things. It’s impossible not to like this movie or its title character. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and StudioCanal).

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Ireland’s Wars: Guillemont And Ginchy

The British and French had made some gains on the Somme, but a substantial advance or major breakthrough still eluded them as July came to a close. In August, much of the British focus of the battle would to rest on the two villages of Guillemont and Ginchy, both already shattered by the war going on all around them, but pivotally important points in the German defence that had to be dealt with, in a succession of assaults, several of which involved Irish regiments.

It was the 1st battalion of the 8th King’s Regiment – the Liverpool Irish – that were the first of the Irish thrown on the two objectives, in a 8th August assault on Guillemont. It was unsuccessful, the Germans holding strong positions, and capable of repelling most of the infantry waves flung at them. On the 18th, it was the Leinster Regiment’s turn, having been situated in the general region for several weeks before they were sent forward. Their part of the attack was largely a disaster, the men cut down in droves before even going over the top properly, owing to poor trench placement that allowed German machine gun fire from a nearby height. The German defence of Guillemont is especially renowned, regarded by many as their most impressive showing during the campaign.

The effort to take Guillemont, and then the nearby Ginchy, would soon involve the second of the Irish divisions committed to the western front, namely the 16th, who were now moved to the Somme sector a month after their Ulster counterparts had been pulled out. The 16th benefitted from the months of experience they gained in Loos earlier in the year, where they had gained a bit of a reputation as trench raiding specialists, though the cost had been, predictably, high. Thousands of soldiers had become casualties fighting in engagements that are barely remembered today, and that ordeal diluted the available experience of the regiments in the 16th, who had to keep replacing dead or wounded soldiers with fresh levies.

A new assault on Guillemont, attacked somewhere in the region of seven times without success in August, was arranged for the 3rd September, later than planned owing to a sudden turn in the summer weather, with heavy rain churning an already churned battlefield. The organisation of the assault was piecemeal, with the brigades of the 16th moved up individually, with some only learning they were going over the top hours before the attack began. The Germans were weary, with heavy artillery fire inflicting hundreds of casualties on the 16th before it had even gotten started.

The Irish advance was only one part of the assault, but involved thousands of men of its own accord. Battalions of the Connacht Rangers, Royal Irish Regiment and Leinster Regiment were among the first to charge for the village. They made it past the cratered landscape of no man’s land – that both impeded movement and provided cover – and into the German trenches, where hand-to-hand fighting was brutally carried out. The Leinsters were instrumental in taking the first line, and the attack was pursued to the second with a savagery that is noted in multiple accounts. The Irish experience in trench raiding – in the use of bayonet and bombs in cramped conditions – was crucial. The Royal Irish were among those who took the village a few hours after the initial go ahead, and then held it against numerous counter-attacks, before being relieved the following morning: by then, Guillemont itself was practically unrecognisable, just a terrible mix of craters and remnants of masonry.

Only a few days later, the 16th was back in action, this time against nearby Ginchy. On the 5th, in preliminary movements, battalions of the Royal Irish Fusiliers were badly mauled advancing through still standing cornfields, that hid German wire, losing over 450 men in the effort to secure the approaches to what was left of the village, already under nearly endless bombardment from Allied guns.

On the 9th, alongside two other divisions, the 16th went against Ginchy. One battalion, the 6th Connacht Rangers, had only 200 men after the weeks fighting, but British command ordered them forward anyway. The initial attack, from the regiments of the 47th Brigade, came up against German defences that had withstood the artillery very well and, in a grim recreation of the 1st of July, the Irish were turned back with heavy loss. So bad were the casualties that units in the second wave found their ability to get forward impeded by the wounded arriving back in the support trenches.

The 48th Brigade was next, and their contingents of the Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Munster Fusiliers took the first German line, with elements of the Dublin Fusiliers and Inniskilling tapped to continue the attack onto Ginchy itself. The fighting was brutal, with officer casualties again resulting in a lack of command over the ranks: Several Colonels were among the dead and wounded, fighting in the frontline out of a mixture of societal obligation, bravado and obstinacy.

The Dublins were among the first into Ginchy itself, the Royal Irish Rifles not far behind them, with some companies operating entirely of their own volition, having lost all their officers. A mishmash of different regiments was cobbled together in order to provide defence against the inevitable German counter-attacks, which were repelled in desperate fighting for the remainder of the day. The Irish were relieved that night. Ginchy was taken.

4’330 men of the 16th Division had been killed or wounded in the first ten days of September, with many more times that made casualties in the entirety of the British and French armies. In exchange, over two kilometres of ground had been gained, and the two villages secured, as well as high ground that could now be used to further bombard German trench lines. The expense of blood for such objectives – the term “measly” does easily spring to mind – still boggles the mind a bit, but it is important to note that Guillemont and Ginchy were necessary operations if subsequent efforts to bring the Somme campaign to a successfully close were to be undertaken.

As for the 16th, just like the 36th before it, it was now pulled out of the Somme sector, for rest and then redeployment, with many of its battalions shattered beyond recognition, and requiring significant amounts of new levies to once more be in fighting shape. Other Irish units scattered among the armies and corps of the British contigent of the Somme, remained in place. The Allies were still unready to call off the campaign, and the Germans were not prepared to pull back either. As the autumn turned to winter, and as snow began to fall, the fighting on the Somme continued.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: Murder On The Orient Express

Murder On The Orient Express

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Whodunnit?

I’m not an Agatha Christie fan per say, but I have read Murder On The Orient Express, perhaps her most iconic novel of murder, mystery and subsequent solving. And I’ve also caught the few adaptations that were made of the novel, most notably the 2010 TV movie starring David Suchet. It’s a fascinating story to be sure, but one ripe with pitfalls when it comes to filming: Christie’s tale has a lot of complexity in the amount of characters and in the way that the investigation unfolds, and making the leap from the page to the screen is something easily failed at. But then look who is at the helm, both behind the camera and in front it. If anyone can give this property the understanding and the finesse that it requires, it was going to be Kenneth Branagh. Did he succeed then, or was this a challenge beyond him?

Genius private detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) finishes a case in the far east and, exhausted, prepares for a relaxing train journey back west. But his plans are interrupted when hard-nosed Mr Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found murdered on-board. Nearly all of the other passengers are suspects, and each has something to hide: it will take all of Poirot’s skill to uncover the truth, but he may not like what he finds.

While the film is not without its flaws, Branagh has does a serviceable job here. In the directors chair he’s crafted a taut thriller, at times repressively claustrophobic, at others grippingly tense. The look and feel of Murder… is all important: we need to be transported back the better part of a century to a time when trains were the apex of travel and it was possible for the kind of scenario the film depicts – a dozen or more strangers caught on a train for an extended period of time – to actually happen. In every sumptuous set, in every confined introspective of characters, Branagh achieves this, and why wouldn’t he? The man is a very accomplished director at this point, and knows just how to frame a tale like this one. The 65-mm film helps of course, as does the set design and the melding of CGI with “real”.

The Express itself goes from being a warm, inviting thing, just another fascinating ornament of a long-gone oriental world (a wonderful tracking shot introduces the train in such terms), to this dark, cold, coffin-esque thing, hiding a killer and hiding secrets. Branagh plays around with some obvious colour schemes to illustrate the point – the films generally dim tone is sure to turn some off – and frankly nails the exact kind of feel that I believe Agatha Christie was going for.

But it’s his job in front of the camera, as this seemingly insignificant little man, that is even more important. The moustache, the accent the manner: Poirot could easily become a figure of unintended ridicule in the wrong hands. He can be comic at times, intentionally so (in an early scene he corrects someone who names him Hercules: “I do not zlay de lions”), but a worse actor could leave the audience feeling deflated if he was played the wrong way. Thankfully, Branagh plays him the right way, with just the right mix of playful superiority – somewhat like Cumberbath’s Sherlock only without the all-out sociopathy – and moral righteousness. As Poirot himself outlines at what point, he has reached an age where he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t: the first he can’t live without, the second he can’t abide, and it goes for something as small as dessert and as large as the moral visitors and failings of the various passengers on the train.

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I wonder how long that took to grow?

Branagh’s performance is suitably reserved. His Poirot only rarely lets the mask slip, and only in private moments, but it is in those that we truly get a sense for just how exhausted Poirot must be, the kind of man who is constantly finding his services required, and whose weighty conscience refuses to let him turn down such opportunities to be an “avenger of the innocent”.  Branagh imbues the little Belgian detective with more than enough humanity that the audience has no problem connecting with him, in his quest to find a bit of peace in an otherwise non-stop detecting crusade, and his specific mission to find who killed Ratchet. I’m given to understand that his portrayal is a departure from the wider canon, but a Poirot with a bit of a heart works in this context, wherein his cold manner is replaced with a more playful OCD-esque persona.

And what a cavalcade of potential suspects he has to play around with. You have some Hollywood giants – Depp, vicious and menacing as Ratchett/Cassetti, Judi Dench as the aloof and distant Russian princess Willem DaFoe as the blindingly racist Austrian – you have some serious up and comers – Daisy Ridley plays Mary Debenham with the right blend of superiority and charm, Josh Gadd steals the show briefly as Ratchett’s put-upon secretary and Lucy Boynton (last seen wowing me in Sing Street) as the aimless Countess Elena – and a host of others: Leslie Odon Jr making the leap from Hamilton as the now Dr Arbuthnot, Manuel Graica-Rulfo as the Italian car salesman, Tom Bateman, Olivia Coleman, Penelope Cruz, Dereck Jacobi, every role here seems to have been cast with the utmost care for what the actor could bring to the part.

And at the head of them all must stand Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs Hubbard. Pfeiffer’s heyday is behind her, but she still occasionally finds a part that lets her really showcase what once made her one of the biggest stars on the planet: Hubbard, on the face of it a conniving, braggard of little consequence, masking hidden depths, is one of those roles. Overall, Murder… is a supremely acted production from all involved.

And it needs to be. Good direction and a good cast help to keep Murder… going, as we get into the nitty-gritty of the actual plot, which oft-times threatens to overwhelm the viewer with the cavalcade of interviews, clues, backstories and slowly woven conspiracies. There’s no doubt about it, Murder… does become a slog sometimes. Adapting a novel like this, as mentioned, is hard, that is if your as faithful as Branagh is. But the film keeps ticking over, at least if you are the kind of person who gets engaged by the mystery on display. Unlike a lot of other crappy crime thrillers out there, Murder… quickly puts most of the pieces before you, and even if you haven’t read the book you might figure it out ahead of time, and not because it is being spelled out. I think that’s exactly what films of this type should be aiming to do. And, as such stories should be, it is less about whodunnit, but why they did.

And it is in the deviations that Branagh also keeps you engaged. His Murder… has a few action beats that certainly were nowhere near the novel, including a somewhat cartoonish opening parlour scene outside of Jerusalem’s wailing wall, and later, a chase scene down a railway bridge, and later still, even a brief shoot-out (that will divide opinion for sure). And a few other differences enliven proceedings: Arbuthnot’s race becomes a plot point for example and, there are brief comedic asides that don’t detract from the main action, and the finale spends more time than the book did on Poirot’s own personal moral quandary as the solution comes into view. Without going as far as Suchet’s version, Branagh crafts an engaging climax that makes us appreciate Poirot the man as well as Poirot the detective: I couldn’t say much more without being at risk of ruining things entirely, other than to say that Murder… is a good examination of the clash between man’s law and natural justice, and when one may be necessary when the other fails.

While a clumsy effort at setting up a potential sequel left a somewhat bad taste in the mouth just before the credits rolled, I still enjoyed Murder… immensely. It’s directed well, acted brilliantly, and teases out a mystery a lot of audience viewers will know the traditional solution to really well. Such a huge number of principals will always struggle to make an impression, but somehow, they do here. This is a masterful adaptation, that knows when to be pure and knows when to change. For fans of the book, for those new to Christie, recommended.

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Hoot, hoot.

(All images are copyright of 20th Century Fox).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Somme Continues

There was little time for the British, or the Irish, to fully contemplate the scale of the disaster that had occurred on the 1st of July. The Battle of the Somme, and indeed, the Battle of Albert, were only just beginning, with the Allies holding firm to the point of the offensive. As soon as the final hours of the 1st of July, more Irish regiments were being thrown into the fray, namely the 1st Royal Irish Regiment, who were sent across no man’s land from a reserve position, in order to support the gains that the Manchester Regiments had been able to make. The following day, the shattered 36th (Ulster) Division was pulled back.

Douglas Haig, against the wishes of French commanders, elected quickly enough to abandon the offensive on the northern part of the Somme sector, where the majority of British losses had been incurred. Instead, he decided to re-direct units further south, where elements of the British Fourth Army had found some success, along with the more substantial gains of the French. In a series of attacks over the remainder of the month, Irish units were involved in this effort to further the Allied line and fulfil those objectives that had been illusive on the opening day.

One of the major fights for the British in the aftermath of the first day was the attack on Mametz Wood, an area the opposing sides had been fighting over since the earliest days of the war. The 2nd Royal Irish went forward as part of the 7th Division, one of its first major actions since its reformation, having been almost entirely annihilated in the fighting of 1914. Operating under a rudimentary form of “creeping barrage” – wherein British artillery fired just ahead of the intended line of advance, aiming further forward by a strict timetable so as to leave the enemy as little time to reform as possible – the Royal Irish were among those to take the German front-line and support trenches, securing a vital victory, albeit one that came at a frightful cost: in three days of fighting, the Royal Irish took over 200 of the Division’s 3’380 casualties.

At least some of the British commanders were learning the lessons of the first day quickly, and on the 14th of July, Irish regiments benefitted from some sharp changes to operational procedure. The second phase of the Somme opened that day, with a concentrated offensive launched from just behind the captured Mametz Wood area, aiming at the village of Bazentim-le-Petit and a few others, along a 5.5 kilometre front. A brief “hurricane” bombardment of around five minutes in length savaged the German line, before the infantry advanced behind another creeping barrage. The 2nd Royal Irish, presumably still smarting from the events at Mametz, were deemed strong enough to be flung into the fray again.

As part of a second movement, following up on an initial strike, the Royal Irish were tasked with the direct capture of the village itself, which they were able to achieve relatively quickly, the combination of improved artillery tactics and rapid movement forcing the Germans back, with the Irish taking relatively few casualties, along with a number of prisoners. The success was short-lived, with the Bazentin attack remembered largely as one of missed opportunities: the British failed to take advantage of their initial gains due to a combination of poor communication and bad decision-making, and the Royal Irish were soon beating off sustained German counter-attacks aiming to take back the village, with help from the Leicester Regiment and the Gordon Highlanders. Another 300 of them were killed or wounded, with a bitterly contested new frontline in the area of the village being fought over by other units for days afterward.

At the same time, the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles was engaged in the fighting at Ovillers, which had been continuing non-stop since the 1st of July. Ovillers had not been taken then, and the 1st battalion of the Irish Rifles had been among those mauled in the attempt to do so. Initially, they had much the same outcome, sustained German rifle and machine gun fire tearing into the waves of infantry. When the attacks broke down through lack of leadership and cohesion, whoever survived had few options other than to hunker down, wait for darkness, and then withdraw. A few days later, the Rifles were involved in the rescue operation that saved the Royal Warwickshire Regiments’s soldiers, who had been cut-off from their forward positions following a German counter-attack. By that point, the Irish were so fatigued that some allegedly fell asleep in lulls of the fighting, despite being only yards from where the fighting was hottest. While they needed significant reinforcement to do it, the Rifles were among those to break through and save the Warwickshire’s.

At Contalmaison, on the 16th July, it was the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers’ turn. They would have been one of the most experienced units in the British Army, having been in or near the front-line for almost the entirety of the war thus far: now they were asked to follow-up on the capture of the village of Contalmaison, which was already largely just a ruin, both because of the fighting in taking it and subsequent artillery barrages from the Germans. Explosive and shrapnel shell had turned to gas: when the Munsters arrived in what was left of the village, it was enveloped in a cloud of poison.

The attack, on the German lines behind the town, thus went forward with the Munsters heavily laden with gas masks, but the offensive was a success nonetheless. Several German lines were taken in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, trench storming at the time consisting of close assault, grenades and the bayonet. The Munsters’ commanders saw the opportunity to press the attack onto the nearby village of Pozieres, which apparently lay undefended after the German withdrawal, but they were denied permission to advance. If the village had been as undefended at the time as the Munster claim, it was a terrible decision, as the eventual taking of Pozieres would cost many lives once the Germans were back in place. The Munsters repelled counter-attacks for a time and then were pulled out of the line until the following month.

It should be stated that every one of the mentioned operations were massive affairs, all involving tens of thousands of men and many more in support roles with artillery, field hospitals, and even the Royal Flying Corps. They were all battles in their own right, with thousands of casualties. By now the larger Somme battlefield was a true charnel house of churned mud, craters, and multitudes of dead bodies littering every other patch of ground, a testament to the sheer scale of what was occurring.

But the Allied leadership wasn’t interested in calling things off yet: indeed, the smaller-scale successes of the rest of July were showing that positive results could be found. But it remained to be seen whether the cost in men would make such gains pyrrhic in nature. As July became August and the fighting continued at its relentless pace, it was soon the 16th (Irish) Division’s turn to be thrown into the fray.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review – Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

Trailer

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AHA

Two peanuts were walking down the road. One was assalted.

Is this another Hail Mary pass from Marvel Studios? Taking a character whose being and stories were steeped in Norse mythology and Shakespearian overtones, and giving it the Guardians Of The Galaxy treatment? Perhaps. And what a choice for the director too: Taika Waititi, a man whose name, before now, would largely have exhibited a “Who?” from the collective. But he’s undoubtedly had a good few years: What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople and whatever amount of influence he had over Moana. He’s got chops. But the kind of chops to take Thor to new and better places? I was a fan of both Thor and The Dark World, but the God of Thunder of Ragnarok’s trailers seemed like a rebooted deity. The elements for continued success were all there, but was Ragnarok a good way to continue Odinson’s story, or is the MCU desperately grasping for relevance in the face of mundane longevity.

What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? Elephino!

Having figured out that his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has replaced Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as the King of Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels to Earth to seek his father. The journey brings a revelation: the existence of a long-imprisoned sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the God of Death, whose release is prophesied to lead to Ragnarok and the end of Asgard. Defeated, exiled and caught by an ex-Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor finds himself part of the machinations of demented gangster the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum), who soon has the God of Thunder facing off against former ally the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Knock knock. Who’s there? An interrupting cow. An interrup – MOO!

Well, here we are. For better, for worse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now a comedy franchise. It’s been coming. Ever since Joss Whedon let the glib out for Avengers Assemble, and accelerated by James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy success, the MCU has been tilting away from superhero action and drama with a bit of light-hearted comedy elements sprinkled about, becoming instead films where the over-rising emphasis on cramming jokes in has chipping away at any attempts at pathos. And then we got to Thor: Ragnarok.

There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Do you remember the first Thor? It was a Kenneth Branagh directed affair that emphasized the tragic story of two warring brothers and an ailing father trying to make a peace through duplicitous means. It was about what responsibility really was, and how you can’t solve all your problems by blundering about and throwing your hammer around. It was about how, sometimes, to prove yourself worthy you have to be willing to make sacrifices. It had jokes, but they were limited and in the appropriate place. And then there was The Dark World: a film again about parental responsibility for their children’s failings, about loss, about the sins of the past coming back to be revisited on the present.

Did you hear about the Italian chef who died? He pasta way.

Ragnarok attempts, at times, to have serious points, about fraternal rivalry and coming into your own and the importance of duty and what the difference is between a place and a people. But, at the end of the day, what’s its really about is Thor, Loki, Hulk and a few other people joking, snarking and guffawing at each other for over two hours, to a variety of backdrops and colourful supporting characters. Waititi is literally on record as saying he wanted to “destroy” what came before in the pursuit of comedy. And you know what? It’s fine. I laughed. I laughed a lot. Waititi gets humour, and there’s something undoubtedly bone-tickling about seeing these gruff serious characters turned into these clowns. It’s like a parody almost, an enjoyable one.

A pair of jumper-cables walks into a bar. The bartender says “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything!”

But you can’t have this much comedy to this little drama and still expect people to play along with the drama. It is impossible. You cannot be engaged with the fight to liberate Asgard from Hela when Thor and Hulk are having a comedy spat on another planet, or when death and violence are treated with a certain sort of contempt for what they actually are (seemingly important characters in previous films are offed with shocking and uncaring suddenness here). What is the point of having a grand over-arching cinematic universe of dozens of movies, when the individual efforts are this light on seriousness? Why not just have lots of individual comedies?

What did one ocean say to the other ocean? Nothing, they just waved.

I’m getting side-tracked. The kernel of a good dramatic story is here, certainly. I could watch the Thor/Loki/Odin triangle all day, and while Hela’s sudden inclusion as a long-lost sister is a bit of a random occurrence, I’m happy to roll along with a story of intergalactic war, a resistance movement on Asgard and a confrontation between the God of Death and the God of Thunder. Hell, even the “Thor in exile” stuff has potential: fights to the death, friendships tested, redemption sought. Nothing special, nothing flashy, but good transitional bases for a narrative, that production elements could then enhance.

Why did the picture go to jail? Because he was framed!

But then: Loki, masquerading as Odin, watches a play version of his death scene in The Dark World (with a few unexpected celebrity cameos). Thor stops for a selfie while looking for his father on Earth. Mjolnir wrecks Dr Strange’s sanctum. Thor gets reduced to a drooling wreck by Valyrie. The God of Thunder uses the phrase “He’s a friend from work” in regards Hulk, while in a gladiatorial arena. A portal is referred to as the “Devil’s Anus”. A rock monster voiced by frequent Waitit deadpans his way through the film. Cate Blanchett makes a Donald Trump reference. Mark Ruffalo recycles physical comedy from The Incredible Hulk.  I’m very serious when I say this is a good comedy. I laughed the whole way through. But once the film was over, I couldn’t help but feel a little hollow about the experience.

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ROFL

Where do cows go on a first date? To the Mooooovies.

How about some other good elements before I get accused of a title wave of negativity? I quite liked Tessa Thompson’s involvement. Natalie Portman is gone, her absence handwaved away very quickly, but a better female presence is here instead. I loved Thompson in Creed, and she’s good here as well, a bitter, washed up alcoholic ex-Valkyrie, who obviously still has a little bit of a conscious. I generally liked Mark Ruffalo/Hulk’s involvement, outside of the constant comedy, as this may be as close to a World War Hulk adaptation as we may get. And the film is generally acted quite well, for what it is: Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Elba, Goldblum, they all do the necessaries, and demonstrate a good grasp of comedic timing.

Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine.

And the film looks good. Any concerns that Waitit may not have the chops for the big budget spectaculars ends quickly enough during an opening volcanic escapade and from there Thor gets the full Guardians treatment: lots of colours, lots of exotic locales, lots of varied alien species, yet all having just enough restraint that it doesn’t become an incomprehensible cosmic mess that you can’t relate to it at all. It isn’t quite the jaw-dropping visual feast I have read the film described as, but if you like the way the MCU’s other galactic offerings have looked, then you will surely appreciate what’s been done here.

Two guys walk into a bar. The third guy ducks.

And then what is not so good? The film’s action gets predictable and rather boring fast: lots of sword swinging and cutting down a multitude of mooks, be it Thor with Surtur’s goblins, Hela with the Asgardian army or the finale, wherein every Asgardian character still standing starts ripping through Hela’s undead minions with abandon. Efforts to freshen things up – with magical hammers, with gladiatorial combat, with assault rifles – are only partially successful, and Waititi clearly isn’t an action orientated director (the cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe, isn’t of that persuasion either). That wasn’t the priority here, and it shows. The films best action sequence, an airborne chase wherein Asgardians are jumping from vehicle to vehicle, is kept regrettably short, when it had the potential to be something truly special.

What do you call a can-opener that doesn’t work? A can’t opener!

A multitude of the supporting characters also have journeys and narratives that are painfully limited. I’ve given up on trying to figure out what the MCU wants to do with Loki, who was a genocidal tyrant in the making a few films ago and is now a somewhat morally dubious good guy apparently. Jeff Goldblum’s Grand Master is just a second act ornament really. Karl Urban’s Scurge has a pathetically predictable number of plot beats to shuffle through. Idris Elba’s Heimdall might have five lines total. And the various cameos, extended or otherwise, is an inevitable end result of a bloated universe trying to maintain cohesion.

I witnessed an attempted murder earlier. Luckily only one crow turned up.

And, in the grand tradition of the MCU, we have another nothing villain, who had the potential to be interesting but ends up being Cate Blanchett aping her 20 second “Evil Galadriel” bit from The Fellowship Of The Ring for an entire film in terms of acting, and with a character that is just sort of boring: evil for the sake of being evil, who wants to take over the universe because she wants to take over the universe and appears, by the end of proceedings, to be just a sideshow of a prophecy that is real self-fulfilling.

What do you call someone else’s cheese? Nacho cheese!

Here’s the final point I want to make about Ragnarok’s central issue, and you can consider it a spoiler for the films finale, so read on at your peril. At the conclusion of Ragnarok, as per the film’s title, Asgard gets destroyed, torn to pieces by the war between the royal family and finally blown up a gigantic fire demon (voiced by Clancy Brown, keep up the superhero work!). It’s a dramatic moment. This is one of the powers in the universe, the home of a near immortal race of superbeings, being annihilated before our eyes. It’s been a location we’ve seen being fought over, bled over, for three movies. It’s one of the tentpoles of the Marvel universe. What survivors exist are now refugees, forced to seek shelter across the stars. And this moment of high drama is marked by a comedy monologue from Waititi’s rock monster character, who says they can rebuild the place as long as the foundations are strong, sees it blow up and then deadpans: “Well, the foundations are gone.” If Marvel don’t take such a momentous event seriously, why should I? Why should I care?

How do snails fight? They slug it out!

It’s hard to take things seriously when there’s a punchline every few lines isn’t it? It’s hard to care. It starts to get a bit distracting when you’ve come into the experience expecting something somewhat dramatic, and then when the thing flips to being mostly comedic, the dramatic stuff just feels weird, obstructing, odd. Look back over this review. Do you think the jokes improved it? Or to ask a better question, do you think it’s structured well with all the jokes? When Thanos launches his galactic takeover with the help of the Infinity Stones next year, should I take him seriously? Or will I be waiting for Peter Quill or Tony Stark or Rocket Raccoon or the rock monster or Vision or any one of two dozen characters to say something sarcastic, or make a fart joke, or start dancing for some reason?

How do you feel when there is no coffee? Depresso.

I’ll be in the theatre for Black Panther, because supporting that film has an importance beyond supporting the MCU. But after that? I honestly don’t know. I’ve seen every single MCU film in theatres, usually within a day or two of release. But if the reviews for Infinity War, invariably 99% on RT, tell me it’s another laugh riot, I don’t know if I can muster the enthusiasm. Maybe on Netflix or iTunes, so I can have a laugh on a relaxing evening and not have to pay the better part of €20 for it. And I think that I will laugh. But I won’t be all that engaged. And a few years later, I’m not sure I’ll really remember it. Thor: Ragnarok certainly isn’t going to stick in my head as a memorable cinema-going experience.

What’s the best way to carve wood? Whittle by whittle.

Let’s sum up then. If you go to see Thor: Ragnarok, you’ll undoubtedly be entertained. It’s funny, it looks good, and while lengthy for what it is, it certainly isn’t tedious. It’s a very good effort from a director who I have enjoyed previously, and on those terms, I can’t but recommend it. But, if you are of the same persuasion as me, and appreciate a ratio of comedy to drama that favours the later, then you will be left feeling a just a little bit cold by Ragnarok, a sensation that will increase the more you think about it, and the more you realise that there is a missed opportunity. Now, roll on Justice League, and we’ll see if the other extreme – at least if it’s still Zach Snyder’s movie in tone and content – is any better.

I forgot where I put Mjolnir. Then it came to me.

Thor-Ragnarok-title-card

LOL

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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Ireland’s Wars: 1st July 1916

In the final week of June 1916, the British and French forces would fire somewhere close to a million a and half shells at the German lines in the Somme sector, as part of their plans to soften up the target and hopefully make things a walkover for the hundreds of thousands of troops scheduled to go over the top and cross no man’s land on the 1st of July. While not unique to the campaigns of the western front, the sheer scale of this bombardment is staggering, a feeling that can be matched only by its colossal failure in its initial objective.

So many things went wrong with the artillery in the British sectors, that it was almost farcical. In order to get as many shells as possible, quality was sacrificed for quantity, and a huge proportion of the shells fired were duds, that failed to explode and did little more than make limited impressions on the earth. The British used large amounts of shrapnel shells, not high explosive, that were ill-suited to the job of churning up barbed wire lines and destroying fortifications. And the Allies completely under-estimated the strength of German defensives: the enemy had dug-in deep in the soft earth of the Somme and Ancre basin, building bunkers and advanced trench systems where the shells couldn’t destroy them. When the guns finally fell silent, the Germans were rattled, maybe deafened in some parts, but they weren’t knocked out of the fight. Indeed, the length of the bombardment was warning enough, British leadership preferring to devastate over time rather than try and catch the Germans off-guard with a limited “lightning strike” assault just before the infantry attack.

When the 1st of July dawned, half a million Allied troops over a twenty-five mile front were ready. The last of artillery was fired off, and mines that had been carefully placed in extensive digging operations were detonated, to little tactical gain, but to great benefit to the Germans, who now had ample warning for what was minutes away from occurring. Zero hour was set for 0730, and it was then, on a day of clear skies but some mist, that the majority of the infantry clamoured over the top of their trenches and began their advance. Some had decided to set out a few minutes early, so they could form up in proper formation in no man’s land and try and surprise the enemy. Unnervingly for some soldiers, in parts of the line of the attack the Germans were already counter-attacking with their artillery, clear evidence that the massive bombardment hadn’t done its job.

For the purpose of this entry, I will take an objective-by-objective approach, focusing first on the Irish unit that is most associated with the “Battle of Albert” (the more formal title for the first day of the Somme Campaign): the 36th (Ulster) Division. Having been in the trenches for most of the year thus far, the advance on the 1st of July was the 36th’s proper baptism of fire.

As discussed, the 36th were part of the forces that was aimed squarely at the fearsome Schwaben Redoubt, an intimidating assembly of machine gun posts and barbed wire. Across the line of advance, the troops advanced in different ways: the traditional narrative of soldiers ordered to mass in lines and walk to the opposing trench lines, over fears they were too inexperienced to do anything else, is only partially true. The 36th, utilising smaller groups of soldiers to go through the galps in the wire, emphasized mobility over mass of men, tactics that were largely in use by the French at the time.

Despite this, the German infantry and machine gunners had a large range of targets. Fire opened up, and the British fell in droves. Entire companies in the first ranks were wiped out. And yet, they went on, through the fire, through the tangled nets of barbed wire, through the mortars and the artillery and into the teeth of the Redoubt. The 10th Royal Innsikilling Fusiliers and 13th Royal Irish Rifles were among the first to attack into and take positions inside the Redoubt, before having to dig-in as best as they could and repel German counter-attacks.

 

Successive waves of other 36th Division units were mown down as they left their trenches and the small amount of protection granted by the Thiepval Wood area, a few surviving to join the fighting around the Redoubt, the others left where they fell in no man’s land. Other units were attacking nearby, taking the German front line a few minutes after leaving their own trenches, but at an appalling cost in lives. Still, the Ulstermen’s impetus cannot but be admired: the 11th and 15th Royal Irish Rifles took little more than an hour to reach the third German trench line, shooting and bayonetting as they went, before they were the unfortunate victims of friendly artillery fire, the British batteries moving slower than the infantry.

All across that section of the line, the 36th and other units saw their soldiers come under withering fire almost as soon as they had left the trenches, and no amount of “No surrender!” sentiment could save them. Worse still, failures on either side of the 36th’s section of assault meant that whatever gains the Ulster Division had made were perilously exposed from both flanks.

The fighting in the Schwaben Redoubt was back-and-forth with a particularly vicious character. A disproportionate amount of officers, many of them young men leading from the very front, and so the first to be targeted, were dead, and the leaderless units lacked command and information about what was happening elsewhere. More battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles would reach the Redoubt, and what British troops were there fought as valiantly as they could to clear it out and reach the “Crucifix” section at its rear. But under fire from all sides, and with the Germans in a better position to launch attacks, failure was inevitable.

As night fell, the 36th was in control of a significant section of the Redoubt and of large sections of the German line, but their position, without reinforcement and with supplies running low, was completely untenable. They were ordered back across no man’s land and into their original positions, the expense of the day counting for naught in their section of the attack.

To the north, the 4th Divisions contingent of the Royal Dublin and Royal Irish Fusiliers were flung into the fray near Beaumont Hamel, to find that the German wire was still largely in place. Many died trying to clear a path through the impediment, funnelled into narrow gaps that were easy targets for German machine guns. What few made it to the initial objective were soon forced back. The tragic farce was added to by the fact that later attacks were countermanded too late, and some companies advanced to slaughter needlessly. Later still, the 1st Royal Innsikilling Fusiliers attacked the nearby Hawthorn Redoubt, as threatening as the Schwaben, and were the subject of murderous enfilade fire from both flanks. Reaching barbed wire, they were stuck, and all but wiped out.

To the south, the 1st Royal Irish Rifles were part of the attack on the Ovillers-Pozieres line. Getting out of their trenches and through their own lines of wire accounted for many: the rest somehow managed to take the first two German lines, only to have to abandon their gains when the efforts on either flank failed. Staying in place in such circumstances was suicide, and thus was the pattern of the fighting: the big offensive needed a unity of advance in order to succeed, and this simply didn’t happen.

At Boisselle, the Tyneside Irish went forward, having one of the longest stretches of no man’s land – nearly a full mile – to cover. Under fire all the way, a bare amount of troops were still in a fit state to fight when they reached the German lines, but in no state to actually take their objectives. Their division, the 34th, would have the highest casualties of any division on the first day of the attack. One of the clearest surviving photographs taken that day is of the Tyneside Irish, taken just as they left their trenches.

Further south, and under-reported in British-focused histories of the event, the French contingent of the advance had actually made excellent progress, taking most of their first day objectives, benefitting from the greater use of high explosive shells in their part of the advance, along with their more appropriate infantry tactics. But with the lack of success further north, the French gains were hamstrung, being little more than a new salient to have to defend from flanking attacks.

The first day of the Somme is the worst single day in the history of the British military. Over 57’000 of the men involved were casualties: over 19’000 of those were dead, many of them members of Kitchener’s New Army, taking part in their first proper engagement, and never to take part in another. Two and a half thousand of them were Irish, predominantly members of the 36th, who lost 2’000 dead and several thousand more injured in their section of the fighting alone, a third of the divisions strength. Unsurprisingly, they were pulled out of the firing line soon after. While not the worst day in Irish military history, the day ranks highly enough. And, taking into consideration the amount of blood that was shed and men lost who could not easily be replaced, the gains that had been made along the entirety of the line were catastrophically limited.

And it was just the beginning. More offensives would soon be launch, more efforts to re-capture the initiative and force the gap that the opening days fighting had failed to do. The British and the French would still be throwing themselves at the German lines 140 days later. And the Irish, new and old, would be right in the middle of it.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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