A Visitor’s Guide: The First Day of the Somme

Gommecourt to Maricourt 1 July 1916

By Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland

Pen & Sword, 2016

A Visitor's GuideThe fifth guidebook in the ‘Battle Lines’ series focuses on one day, rather than a whole campaign or series of battles as the previous ones have done. The eleven routes provided in the book cover the length of the British front line on 1st July 1916, from Gommecourt in the north to Maricourt in the south. Over 170 sites, memorials, and cemeteries are included in the itinerary; this is no tokenistic tour of the main tourist spots, but a guide that will take the visitor well and truly off the beaten track.

A brief historical overview is given as well as practical information about visiting the area – mainly covering accommodation. This part of the text is perhaps geared to the first time visitor to the area, who may not be familiar with the battlefields or the campaign, rather than the seasoned battlefields veteran.

Each of the 11 routes has a summary including the distance and whether it can be done on foot, bike, or by car. A grading (either easy or moderate) and co-ordinates are also provided. A general description and context sets out the background to the route. A series of ‘spine routes’ connects the individual guides along the length of the front line. An approximate completion time for each route would have proved useful, but of course is dependent on how long the individual spends at each site (and how long they spend scouring the ground for shrapnel!).

The maps are uncluttered and clear and the instructions easy to follow. Each point of interest has additional context, with personal accounts and details of the men seamlessly interwoven in the style Cooksey and Murland have used to great effect in their previous offerings. Photos of the landscape and men supplement the text.

I was particularly interested in the routes at the north and south of the British lines, as these are probably the lesser-visited areas of the Somme battlefield. I was pleased to see that they are covered in as much depth as the other areas, and have noted down a few points of interest for my own next visit.

Brief appendices cover the memorial/grave locations of VC winners and poets, again perhaps catering to the ‘tick list’ of things to see for the first time visitor. Nevertheless, the core of this work provides a solid guide to the action that occurred on 1st July 1916 and many a visitor will benefit from the authors’ knowledge and experience.

Buy this book from Amazon here:
A Visitor’s Guide: The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt (Battle Lines)