Battle of the Somme

From Tolkien Gateway
Tolkien's army revolver on display at the Imperial War Museum.
"They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead."
Frodo Baggins[1]

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of World War I, and indeed human history.[2] J.R.R. Tolkien fought there from July to October 1916, as Battalion Signalling Officer to the 11th Batallion of The Lancashire Fusiliers. His unit was stationed in the northern sector of the Somme and participated in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and capture of Regina Trench.[3] In October Tolkien contracted trench fever and was evacuated to England to convalesce; he did not return to the front lines.

Among the hundreds of thousands of young men killed at the Somme were two of Tolkien's close school friends: Robert Gilson and Geoffrey Bache Smith. Tolkien discussed the death of Gilson in a letter written in the trenches to Smith shortly before he too was killed by shrapnel. The "hideous" experience of the Battle, as Tolkien described it, is often seen to be reflected in his written work.[4]

The Dead Marshes were inspired by the landscape of northern France in the aftermath of the battle.[5]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"
  2. Paul Brewer (2007). The Chronicle of War: A Year-by-Year Account of Conflict from 1854 to the Present Day. London: Carlton Books.
  3. Imperial War Museum. Personal Stories - JRR Tolkien. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  4. Lisa Jardine. 'The Somme and Tolkien'. BBC News | Magazine. Updated 2006-07-03. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 226, (dated 31 December 1960)