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четверг, 29 сентября 2016 г.

World War I: One day of war cost our family three brothers

EVERY year on July 1 Graham Walker's father would solemnly draw three crosses on the calendar.
Each simple cross was a memorial to Fred, Charles and Ernest Walker—three brothers scythed down in a firestorm of bullets and shells on the first day of the bloody Battle of the Somme 90 years ago.
More than 60,000 British servicemen fell dead or injured on just day one of that four-month World War I battle.
CARNAGE: The battleground
Many of those were in Pals battalions—volunteers from the same towns, the same families, the same mines or factories.
Brothers died in a single shellburst, fathers fell with sons, the young male population of whole communities was wiped out in a split second.
"These men kept going over the top despite the terror, despite the carnage, despite the hell on earth all around them," said Graham, 43, whose father Bryan was Fred's grandson.
Graham added: "When my father told me the full story I was devastated. I promised I'd never forget."
Fred Walker
Fred, Charles and Ernest Walker had signed up for the York and Lancaster Regiment along with friends and neighbours in Barnsley.
"The Barnsley Pals had all worked down the mines together," said Graham.
The three brothers and their Pals were soon dispatched to France to prepare for the coming offensive on the Somme.
German trenches had been subjected to relentless shelling the week before the attack and British commanders were so sure resistance would be weak they ordered men like Fred, Charles and Ernest to walk slowly, in formation, towards enemy lines.
But the shelling bombardment had made little impact on the heavily fortified German trenches and the Barnsley pals and thousands more walked slowly, in formationacross no man's land...into a slaughter.
Ernest Walker
It was to be the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. Within hours of the battle beginning—90 years ago yesterday—Fred, 35, Charles, 31, and Ernest, 33, were dead. By the next morning almost 20,000 British soldiers had perished.
When news of the brothers' tragic end reached Barnsley, their sister Fanny described the family's sense of loss in a simple, poignant poem:
For many years our family chain,
Was closely linked together;
But O that chain is broken now,
Three links have gone forever
"The regiments were all local," said Graham, who has dedicated a website to the brothers. "You joined with your friends, families and neighbours. But entire streets were cut down in a single burst of machine gun fire.
Charles Walker
The whole young, male population of a village disappeared in one shellburst. No one had ever experienced death on that scale."

The Walkers were left with grim but proud tokens of their sacrifice. Graham said: "Families received an inscribed circular bronze plaque, known as a Death Penny."
His great-grandfather's Death Penny inscription reads ‘Fred Walker — he died for freedom and honour'.
"They also received a scroll of honour, like the treasured heirlooms handed down to me, along with Fred's prayer book and a cap badge," said Graham, who has made the pilgrimage to the brothers' final resting place in France. What was once hell on earth is now a well-tended farm field, down an idyllic lane near the village of Serre.
The only signs of war are the rusty shells at the side of the field and the lovingly maintained war cemeteries, which mark the battlefield.
Graham, who visited the site with his sons Joshua and Harry, said: "Fred and Ernest do not have graves. Their names are carved on the Thiepval Memorial, commemorating the 72,085 men who died.
"It wasn't difficult to imagine Fred, Ernest and Charles looking down on us.
"They would be smiling too, knowing that their ultimate sacrifice for a better tomorrow would never be forgotten. God rest their souls."
Truth about Britain's bloodiest battle
KILLING FIELDS: Graham on the battle site where Fred, Ernest and Charles perished

1.8MILLION shells were fired at German lines before the batle, but enemy troops survived by sheltering 30ft underground.
1,500 guns were used to fire the barrage, which went on for eight days.
247 INFANTRY battalions, around 200,000 men, attacked on July 1, along an 18-mile front.
800 MEN from the Newfoundland Regiment went "over the top" that day—only 69 returned.
NINE Victoria Crosses were awarded on the first day of the battle.
FIFTEEN sets of British brothers died on the same day.
1.2 MILLION British, French and German soldiers were killed or wounded during the five months of fighting
36 BRITISH tanks went into action on September 16, the first time they had been used in the war.
72,000 BRITISH troops listed as missing on the Somme are named on the battlefield's huge Thiepval memorial.
150,000 BRITISH soldiers are buried in more than 250 military and 150 civilian cemeteries in the Somme.
FIVE MILES of ground was all that had been gained by the time the battle ended in November, 1916.

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