STANFORD HISTORY EDUCATION GROUP sheg.stanford.edu
Document B: British Soldier
George Coppard was a British soldier who fought during the entire First World
War and was twice wounded. He fought at the Battle of the Somme as a machine
gunner and wrote about his experiences in his book, With a Machine Gun to
Cambrai. In this excerpt, Coppard recollects his experience on July 2, 1916.
The next morning we gunners surveyed the dreadful scene in front of our trench.
There was a pair of binoculars in the kit, and, under the brazen light of a hot mid-
summer's day, everything revealed itself stark and clear. . . .
Immediately in front, and spreading left and right until hidden from view, was
clear evidence that the attack had been brutally repulsed. Hundreds of dead,
many of the 37th Brigade, were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high-
water mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish
caught in the net. They hung there in grotesque postures. Some looked as
though they were praying; they had died on their knees and the wire had
prevented their fall. From the way the dead were equally spread out, whether on
the wire or lying in front of it, it was clear that there were no gaps in the wire at
the time of the attack.
Concentrated machine gunfire from sufficient guns to command every inch of the
[barbed] wire, had done its terrible work. The Germans must have been
reinforcing the wire for months. It was so dense that daylight could barely be
seen through it. Through the glasses it looked a black mass. The German faith in
massed wire had paid off.
How did our planners imagine that Tommies [British soldiers], having survived all
other hazards - and there were plenty in crossing No Man's Land - would get
through the German [barbed] wire? Had they studied the black density of it
through their powerful binoculars? Who told them that artillery fire would pound
such [barbed] wire to pieces, making it possible to get through? Any Tommy
could have told them that shell fire lifts [barbed] wire up and drops it down, often
in a worse tangle than before.
Source: George Coppard, With a Machine Gun to Cambrai, 1969.
repulsed: resisted; stopped