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Prelude to War
It seems timely to write about the Great War, now known as World War I. Just over 100 years ago, on July 28, 1914, with the declaration of war on Serbia by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, the war commenced. Its genesis had been the assassination a month earlier in Sarajevo of the Emperor’s son and heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
On August 1, Germany ordered General Mobilization and declared war on Russia. On August 3, Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium. On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany for its violation of Belgium’s neutrality.
Barbara Tuchman in her classic, “The Guns of August,” explains the convoluted origins of the Great War, with its complicated treaties and intricate mobilization plans. Her conclusion – once Germany declared mobilization, inexorable events were set in motion that inevitably led to the invasion of Belgium and France.
July 8, 1916
At the time of my birth in Newton, Cambridgeshire, England on July 8, 1916, my mother, Florence Freestone Bareham, would have been in a state of shock. All England had heard the news from France that the long-expected British offensive north of the River Somme, preceded by one of the heaviest artillery bombardments in history, had commenced on July 1st. She would have been sure that her husband, Sgt. Reginald Bareham of the 11th Suffolks, an infantry unit, had participated in the attack.
Early reports from the front, however, as reflected in contemporary newspapers, did not reveal the horrendous casualties suffered on July 1. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers out of the 100,000 who “went over the top” to attack entrenched Germans were killed in that single day. This would not be reported until much later in order to avoid providing information, and encouragement to the enemy.
Preservation of morale on the home frontwould also have been a significant factor in tempering official reports from the battlefield. Nevertheless, while casualty reports in detail had not yet arrived, the families of those in the battle had reason for serious concern.
My mother would not learn for many weeks that my father, Sgt. Reginald Bareham, had been killed on that first day of the great Battle of Somme. His body had been found and identified among the thousands remaining on the field of battle at the end of that fateful day.
Caring for 40,000 wounded soldiers, many of whom would die of their wounds, would have been a secondary priority while the battle raged. Identifying the dismembered bodies that were deteriorating in the summer heat, a monumental task in itself, would have to come later.
In it’s issue of September 15, 1916, the Cambridge Weekly News and Express carried my father’s photo under the heading: ”Missing Since July 1” and further reported that, “From letters received by friends there can be little doubt that he was killed.”
On January 14, 1917, having searched hospitals in England for weeks to determine if her husband had been brain damaged and evacuated, my mother received Army Form B. 104-82:
It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received this day from the War Office notifying the death of (No.) 13777 (Rank) Sergeant (Name) Reginald G. Bareham (Regiment) 11th Suffolk Regt. which occurred at place not stated on the 1st of July 1916, and I am to express sympathy and regret of the Army council at your loss. The cause of death was 'Killed in Action' Previously reported 'Missing.'
Next: Part 2. A Farm Boy in England
Ron Van Stockum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His three books of columns, as well as his first book, Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm, may be purchased at Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza Shopping Center in Shelbyville or from Amazon.com.