The first of July, 1916, began as a beautiful and sunny day. At half past seven the Battle of the Somme began. By the end of the battle, four months later, casualties had passed one million.
‘Before the blackness of their burst had thinned or fallen the hand of Time rested on the half-hour mark, and all along that old front line of the English there came a whistling and a crying. The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all pleasant things, advanced across No Man’s Land to begin the Battle of the Somme.’
(The end of ‘The Old Front Line’, 1917, John Masefield.)
In 2004 Elizabeth Haines travelled to the Somme with the David Jones Society, returning with a full sketchbook.
‘Through which their bodies grope the mazy charnel way… seek to distinguish men from walking trees …’
from David Jones’ epic prose poem ‘In Parenthesis’ (1937),
quoting in its turn Mark, 8:24 ‘And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.’
‘In Parenthesis’ recounts the story of John Ball who attacks Mametz Wood on the first day of the battle
and later his long injured crawl back.
This sketch is also from Mametz and the words are taken from a 13th century Welsh poem which David Jones knew.
The Lament for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by Gruffudd ab Yr Ynad Coch.
‘Poni welwch chwi hynt y gwynt a’r glaw?
Poni welwch chwi’r deri’n ymdaraw?’
In translation the passage runs:
‘See you not the rush of the wind and rain?
See you not the oaks lash each other?
See you not the ocean scourging the shore?
See you not the truth is portending?
See you not the sun hurtling across the sky?
See you not that the stars have fallen?
Have you no belief in God, foolish men?
See you not that the world is ending?’
remembering their losses of nearly five thousand in the second attack on Mametz Wood.
It was in Mametz Wood after its capture, that Robert Graves found the dead body
which inspired his poem ‘A Dead Boche’.
‘Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood.’
This sketch is from near the Ulster Tower, memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division. It stands to the south-west of the Schwaben Redoubt, a triangle of trenches, which the Ulster Division attacked uphill on the first day of the battle. The Ulster Division not only captured it, but held it for some time, also advancing towards Stuff Redoubt.
“The shellcase was given to me by a farmer’s wife.
Her husband still turns them up every year on his land.”
A small number of copies of this sketchbook have now been printed in a facsimile edition.
You can order your own signed copy of Sketchbook from the Somme for £25 directly from Elizabeth Haines, telephone 01437 532498
There are 56 pages and it is spiral bound.
The book is 150 by 110 mm and printed on quality 170gsm cartridge with board covers.
Each copy is signed by the artist.
The number of facsimile copies is limited.
You can order your own signed copy
for £25 directly from Elizabeth Haines.
Telephone 01437 532498 (from the UK),
+44 1437 532498 (international).
Or go to Contact page.
‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place;’
Written some 75 miles to the north near Ypres by the Canadian doctor and poet, Lt. Col. John McCrae.