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In this section:
Interview with Robert Mitchell: 24th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 3 minutes, 55 seconds
Q. We've been a long way around. You were going to tell me about the Somme a long time ago.
A. That was our first battle, in the Somme. You know, if you had time, I could give you a [b]ook. Everything is condensed in there. I've sat in the writing of that book, there were about a hundred of us.
Q. I'd rather have it as you remember it.
A. It was marching, marching, marching all the time. It was foot slugging. In the Somme it was dry and chalky. Of course that was in September. Don't forget it was the Jerries that started off that. They blew up some trenches and, if I remember correctly, some Prime Minister from London got up one morning to listen to the mines being blown up. We went in after them.
Q. This was a special battle as far as you were concerned.
A. The Battle of the Somme, that was our first big battle.
Q. Is that what makes it special?
A. I imagine so. You see, up till then, we had skirmishes like the St. Eloi Craters and in and out of the trenches, one week in and ten days out, it would kind of get monotonous.
Q. What would make this a big one?
A. Because it was well-advertised in the papers. We knew we were going down to the Somme. Until then, the only notice you ever had about the Canadians was "All quiet on the Western Front" and maybe three or four of your chums out of ten would be killed but it was all quiet on the Western Front at the time. It was only when you got to a big one and you could look around and see trenches all over. The Van Doos did a good job then, the 22nd Battalion. I know our battalion was detailed off to carry bombs to them.
Q. From the point of view of the soldier, what made this a big one?
A. Well, it was the publicity, I suppose, in the papers.
Q. Wasn't it a bigger job to do, a bigger fight?
A. Yes, there were more people in on it. You knew that you weren't the only one; you only had a small part of the line. There were English troops on either side of you, probably Aussies behind you and the guns then, don't forget that's the first time we had tanks, at the Somme on the 15th of September, 1916. I think they took fifteen tanks in. We thought it was grand at first to march behind the tanks but then the enemy concentrated on knocking those tanks out so it wasn't funny any more. We dodged them after that. Of course they were big monsters then and noisy. We all got a ride in one just around the block. It was terrific.
Q. They were really overestimated?
A. I'm sure they were. Right now they're not because they have up-to-date guns in them but don't forget, they just had six- or ten-pounders in there and the noise, the concussion inside that damn thing.
Q. I've never talked to a man who was in a tank.
A. The first tanks were terrible. I only went for a ride, a joy ride for five minutes, and I was damn glad to get out of them. They were such noisy creatures. Somebody would be in there with a rifle firing and then there would be small field gun, that's all we had, you now, machine guns and field guns in there. Now they have radar. They don't have to show where they're going, they have radar. The first tanks were big, clumsy affairs.
Q. It must be a pretty lonely kind of life in there. You wouldn't feel protected, you know, even with all that armament around you.
A. Don't forget, if a direct hit hits you on the outside, the concussion on the inside must have been terrific. I think half of them were left lying there. I think there were fifteen tanks went in with us and I think six or eight of them were left lying there.