Monday, September 3, 2007


World War One has a certain senselessness that World War Two lacks. Defeating Hitler and fascism is noteworthy, but massacres in trenches about not very much are difficult to explain. It would be hard to describe to an alien visitor why it was important to fight in the Great War, but people did and some of the bloodiest battles were fought for the smallest gains.
One such battle was the Battle of the Somme, when the British and French Armies attacked the Germans. The battle opened on the 1st of July 1916 and ended in October of the same year. On the first day 20,000 British soldiers and 60% of the officers that led them were killed with 40,000 injured. It is still the single bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. A statement issued by the British Army at the end of the day stated that "the first day of the offensive is very satisfactory." This battle also saw the first usage of tanks in modern warfare, they didn't really change anything. By the end of the battle the Allies had advanced 12 kilometres at huge cost. There were 420,000 British casualties and 200,000 French. The Germans lost around half a million men, which the allied High Command claimed was the point of the offensive, to destroy German manpower.

I mention this because Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun created one of the greatest series of stories dealing with this period. Called Charley's War the comic strip was published between 1979 and 1985 it dealt with life in the trenches in amazing detail. Mills was also quite clear when writing this series to show his very strong anti-war stance, sure people do heroic things but all the characters are quite ordinary and suffer various problems of their own. Colquhoun was an amazing artist and the black and white art he produced for this strip was simply amazing.

Read this amazing series and discover what life in the trenches meant for millions of soldiers who fought a largely senseless war they thought was going to end all wars. As Wilfred Owen once stated "The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori." (It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.)

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