The Somme

Several summers past, I sat down in the study in the Castle to write “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey”: a story about Highclere before, during and after the First World War. By the end of June, I was writing about the Battle of the Somme which was actually launched on July 1st 1916.


Historical statistics relate that one million men were killed or wounded, but how can we imagine the lost sons, husbands and brothers?  I was also writing about Almina’s hospital at Highclere, the nursing and the world of medicine, the attempts to heal. I read that 400 British surgeons were also killed in the first few days of the Battle of the Somme – what a loss of knowledge which could have helped others. I spent much of the time near tears.



Apart from carefully chronicling facts and the course of the battles, I read again the poetry of Sassoon, Rosenberg, Owen, Kipling…about the futility of war, the pointlessness, the tragic heroism.  Wilfred Owen wrote “My subject is War, and the pity of War.The Poetry is in the pity”.

I was not sure it mattered which side you were on and I read German poetry as well. The fighting was in Holland, in France, in Belgium, in Germany, in Greece, in the Balkans, at sea and outside Europe as well. All of Europe was involved. A little later, in 1939, the war continued in another global version with unbelievable horrors, at the end of which the impetus was to stand together, finally.



In 2014 we gathered a few thousand people together at Highclere to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The idea was to raise money together for today’s victims of war. It was an extraordinary day as Ambassadors and representatives from the EU as well as Commonwealth countries all arrived. The Luxembourg Ambassador arrived to find his flag to one side of the Castle’s front door. It was very positive to work with the cultural part of the EU.

The Australian baritone, Morgan Pearse , sang “Silent Night” and we replayed a football match. Appropriately England and Germany drew. Last December we tried a new fundraising day called “Songs of Peace” which we will be holding again this year. Through gathering a few hundred people together we hope to raise money for those struggling with shelter and food in refugee camps. We have already linked up with others to do the same, just trying to sing the same songs or hymns…



I have personally found the last week rather depressing and it has just made me very sad. I presume that even football may be further challenged and inspiring mangers such as Claudio Ranieri may no longer be able to work here….

However, I do hope we remember the words:

“If you break faith with us who die we shall not sleep

though poppies grow in Flanders fields”




59 Responses to “The Somme”
  1. Charlotte Cole says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Your poignant account of such unimaginable tragedy reminds us to always hold those lost, and injured, in our hearts. My grandfather served in pastoral care during WWI, and my father was a surgeon in a Mobile Army Medical Unit in WWII. I understand your tears , for I, too, have been brought to tears when I think of the horrors they witnessed and endured. All those who served, and their loved ones, endured such suffering. War is impossible to comprehend, but if we give our care and support to those who need it, then perhaps we lessen some impact of the horror. Your efforts in fundraising, support, and love are truly important.
    Thank you, again, for sharing your beautiful writings.

  2. Karen Golden says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Thank you again for your informative and inspiring writings through your books and blog entries. I continue to enjoy both and always anticipate new offerings!

  3. Carmen C. DeMoss says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon:

    You write that at the end of WW II “the impetus was to stand together, finally”. Well put.
    Recent events seem contrary to that unifying desire, making me, a US resident, hope that it does not go extinct. .
    Best regards,

  4. Melissa Mital says:

    It is so sad to think of all the loss incurred by war, yet this planet cannot seem to learn from it. Life and memory is short. Thank you for your post, and thank you for reminding people of all the loss suffered by so many. Perhaps your l recounting of history will bring a greater understanding.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Understanding and togetherness! It seems to have the ability to go wrong so quickly…

  5. Jeffery Sewell says:

    Your Ladyship’s heartfelt comments are indeed most appropriate given both recent events of the past week and the forthcoming centenary anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. My paternal grandfather (who unfortunately died of war wounds many years before I was born) served as an ANZAC in Gallipoli, survived that campaign and then fought in the battlefields of France, Flanders and Belgium. He was badly wounded in France but after being hospitalised for some 60 days he returned to the battlefield but was even more seriously wounded on the first day of the Battle of Menin Gate. He refused to leave his post and his men (he was a Sargent) until he was again badly wounded a second time and had to be stretchered from the field. He was subsequently conveyed to hospital in England for treatment and extensive rehabilitation before eventually bring repatriated back to Australia at the end of the war, and discharged medically unfit for further service. He was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery which my father inherited and regarded as his most important possession.
    I seem to have (again) been more verbose that I intended. I will conclude by wholeheartedly endorsing your sentiments and add that the loss by so many countries of almost an entire generation of young men in the Great War was a tragedy that should never be forgotten. It is the memory of the sacrifice and not the so-called glory of war (for there is none) that should remain with us.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I found it extraordinary how the men returned to fight – again….. just as you say. There are some letters, here that, I read and each time I read them again, their grief is with me, still

    • Dee says:

      My friends (and band-mates of my Husband) played the Last Post Ceremony at The Menin Gate Memorial last

      They (The CLB Regimental Band) are on a #tourofhonour on the #trailofthecaribou to mark Newfoundland’s
      Involvement in The Battle of Beaumont Hamel and the remainder of the Great War.

  6. Mary-Carolyn Lawson says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    And I do mean dear. You have such a wonderful way of bringing Real World 101 into focus in such a way that we can grieve for those lost and express our gratitude to all of those who serve to keep us free from tyranny. It is the people who will bring peace on earth, with God’s help. Thank you so much for this.

  7. Sandy Lee says:

    All we can do is remember, and to keep the faith. Thanks for being able to do that in so many ways and with tact and grace. In the tradition of the Great Houses, reviewing the affairs of your nation was a critical component for change. Lady Almina is smiling right now. Well done.

  8. Heather Freeman says:

    One of the focal points of our “hall of memories” in the family homestead is the medical core army uniform and kit box that belonged to my husband’s grandfather. He served in England and Egypt as part of Kingston Queen’s university sister hospitals in WWI. We are also blessed that he took many pictures and wrote notes that accompanied them. The visual story unfolds as he talks about the excitement of he and his chums at the beginning when optimism was high and then the photographs of bombed out hospital wards and lives lost tell another story. So many lives lost or changed forever, it is difficult to comprehend and certainly impossible to understand. It is important for us to remember and reflect on the horrific mistakes we have made so that there may come a time of true peace for everyone. Thank you Lord & Lady for your part in this endeavour.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I think peace remains a challenge and you, we , us all have to keep working and compromising

  9. MaryLou Roberts says:

    Many of us share your sadness and have fond hopes for the well being of the land of our ancestors.

  10. Dotty Cooper says:

    Wonder how many women have started wars?!! Kinda makes one angry at the horror of it all and ask the question “why can’t men just sit down, have a cup of tea (or a “snort” or two!) and talk it out. Better yet, let the deciders decide to do battle themselves!! Argh-h-h-h-h!!!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      That is the thing with EU today, surely better to sit together in a room at a table…

  11. Michele C says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I do love to read your blogs, you are an inspiration to us all. What I find so wonderful about you as evident in your writings, is your thirst, quest and depth of research. We are the fortunate ones to read, learn, and meditate as well visualizing the content of each blog.
    In Canada, July 1st is a celebration of the birth of our nation. I had no idea that the Battle of the Somme had begun July 1, 1916…thank you for the history lesson…how easy it is for us to forget the horrors of the ‘great war’…and the struggles that faced young inexperienced nurses that had to grow up fast. into angels of mercy for many a young man to cling to in their last hours..
    It was interesting watching Downton Abbey as they set up their field hospital in the beautiful big rooms at Highclere Castle…then to realize that actually did happen there in the Castle !!! I must get hold of a copy of your book !!

    Thank you for your blog Lady Carnarvon , I know that the past week has delivered a blow to Britain…whether good or bad…we must pray that God will guide our nations into the future.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am writing and researching the Canadian Federation now, (for this book I am trying to finish!)given it was written here at Highclere and taken through into law by Lord Carnarvon. An example of people in one room making it work! I would to curate a small exhibition here about it next year. I have just been discussing it.

    • dee says:


      Whilst Newfoundland celebrates Canada Day now as well – it is a bittersweet day for us as it is also our Memorial Day,
      We were our own country until joining Canada 1949 and sent our own Newfoundland Regiment overseas to fight as part of the British Commonwealth.
      We had 733 young men injured or killed at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel at the Somme on July 1st 1916

  12. Dianne Wasgatt says:

    Dear Lady Carnatvon,
    I am originally from England now living in America. My husband and I had the great honor of attending the Heroes of Highclere Day and meeting you and Lord Carnarvon in 2014. The service was indeed very emotional, singing some of my favourite hymns, listening to the poems, the bible readings , and the talk by Lord Carey, Love Conquers Everything. I too was in tears. I lost a great Uncle in WW1 and have one of the 888, 246 poppies from the display at the Tower of London. Each one of the 888,246 poppies represented a brave man or woman who lost their lives in WW1.. Thank you Lady Carnarvon for this heartfelt reminder it didn’t matter what side you were on when it came to writing about it. Loss is loss.

  13. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I am going to do something again in September 2018 as the war moved towards and end…

  14. Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Along with your bountiful efforts toward raising funds & awareness, assisting those people impacted by wars, perhaps you might also consider promoting alternatives to war & killings, and encourage viable methods of non-violent conflict resolutions. Your kind, altruistic, and empathetic influence, internationally, can greatly benefit & impact this vital endeavor. The Moondance International Film Festival, in Boulder, Colorado, actively promotes non-violent conflict resolutions through film, television, radio, writing & music, & the coveted Columbine awards, and recognition of alternatives presented to international & local audiences and annual event attendees.

  15. Mayvis says:

    Beautifully reminded. Thank you.

  16. Randy Sprout says:

    My father Robert Sprout and his B-17 Bomber Crew died in a crash on your Sidon Hill May 5th 1945, just before the end of this war.
    I have the official report if you need it e-mailed to you?

  17. Margaret says:

    A touching tribute, Lady Carnarvon…
    Thank you.

  18. Lorraine Greenfield says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Thank you again for a wonderful blog, and a reminder of the horrors of war, I visited the wonderful poppy display at the Tower of London, it was very humbling and sad to think that so many lost their lives, I am now the proud owner of one of those very poppies, it has pride of place in my living room, it makes me sad to think they gave their lives so we could have a better life, and as you say, it has been a very sad few days for our wonderful country. We must never forget all those who having given their lives in all the wars.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      It was an extraordinary display and I think I am trying to say we should not forget nor contribute to a fragmented world today…

    • Lorraine Greenfield says:

      I agree. It would be lovely to have peace worldwide. Lorraine.

  19. peter kelly says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    I fulyl agree with you about the futility of war.The bloodshed and maiming of good men and women from both sides.
    Two of my uncles were killed in the First World War.Another was killed in your afore mentioned The Battle of The Somme.
    The worst thing was that members of the same religion from bothsides killed each other in these horrific conflicts.
    Won’t it be great when God brings an end to all wars.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      In the poem quoted by Wilfred Owen it begins with in some profound dark tunnel and concludes with the man saying ” I am the enemy you killed, my friend…. Let us sleep now . ”

      Another favourite poet of mine is Henry Vaughan who wrote a poem called Peace
      “My Soul, there is a country
      Afar beyond the stars,”

      And that is where he finds peace crowned….

  20. Victoria says:

    Yours is a fitting tribute as well as incredibly sad. You had me in tears to remembering my own late husband who fought three tours in Vietnam. War does strange and terrible things to the men who fight them, and I began to wonder about that when I saw that one photo of yours of the three men sitting in the sun visiting. Your histories are poetic. Thank you.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      It does terrible things, we know it does and so many wars lead to the next war.

  21. Catherine Prattico says:

    I enjoyed reading your book about Lady Almina and her tireless efforts during and after the war years. Clearly, helping and healing others became a lifelong passion for her.

    My grandfather, whom I never met, was a boilermaker from Williamstown, Victoria. At age 24 he went to fight in the Great War, was hospitalised three times with illness and shell shock, but ultimately returned home. What he must have gone through is beyond my comprehension, but I am grateful.

    I have been a police officer for 19 years. After a particularly rough period last year, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Even now, there are certain images and smells that I just can’t get out of my head. Though I certainly haven’t been on any battlefield, it has given me a unique perspective of what my grandfather went through. A colleague of mine, who has been through his own version of hell, has taken me under his wing and he is one of the few people I have been able to confide in. It helps him to help me and I hope that I will be able to do the same for someone else.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am not sure how you deal with what you have seen. Curiously enough, through rough periods in my life, helping others has helped me.

  22. David says:

    Oh,the futility of war and yet it would seem that it is a necessary futility. Your excerpt form the poem “Flanders Field” reminded me of another poem centered around our bloody and costly Civil War. In his poem “Christmas in Camp”, W.G. McCabe talks about the unseen cost of sons separated from family: Dim forms go flitting through the gloom
    The soldiers cluster round the blaze
    To talk of other Christmas days
    And softly speak of hearth and home.

  23. Erick says:

    Always a great joy to read and follow your blog from The Netherlands. I am afraid I have to correct you that in The First World War ,as we call it here, there was no fighting in The Netherlands. We managed to keep neutral and out of the war. Though we did have a lot of Belgian refugees . Unfortunately we could not manage to keep out of The Second World War…

  24. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you – but my thoughts were that the impact economically and emotionally was nevertheless great for those lived during those year and I suppose I edited you in, rather than leave you out! I also think that perhaps in another 100 years the two wars will be always studied together. Holland and the UK have much shared history and royalty. I suppose in these times I was trying to pull out the strands which bring us together. I am just so so sad that the referendum turned out the way it did.

  25. Chrissy says:

    So unimaginable is correct – that so many died. War is awful no matter how you look at it 0 but those who gave their lives you just hope it was for some betterment of the world they left behind. Thanks again for sharing – I can see why it brought you to tears

  26. Jean N. Sozio says:

    As long as there is greed there will be war and as long as there is ignorance there will be war. We have the hope of scripture (thank you King James) whose promises are peace and prosperity through Christ who is our living ruler, defender, and provider. For those who pledge their allegiance to Him – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – wonders never cease. I wish more of Him and the promises and prophecies of scripture were recognized, displayed, and celebrated worldwide. Freedom of speech is a big deal in the U.S. yet to speak truth is a daunting task in our zeal to be “politically correct”. In our inept correctness we are only giving ourselves rope to hang ourselves. Such a beautiful world – cursed from the beginning of man’s walk on earth – cursed through disobedience and deception. Only Christ can eradicate these seeds of destruction in our souls. Bless you for remembering and honoring all those stolen lives of wars past – and unfortunately – those to come.

  27. Regina Drover says:

    I am Canadian and here in Canada July 1st is Canada Day. It ‘s a holiday with huge celebrations.
    But, for us, the people living in Newfoundland,it is something quite different. Here, the day begins with a formal ceremony remembering all our Newfoundland soldiers who were almost instantly wiped out in this battle. This has been an annual tradition ‘forever’.
    Tomorrow, there will be a two hour CBC documentary commentating the 100 th
    anniversary of Beaumount-Hamel.
    Lest we forget.
    As of 12 noon on July 1st, we do partake in the Canada Day festivities.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Nest year I hope to put together a little exhibition about Canada day- much of the federation was constructed here. The 4th Earl of Carnarvon introduced the bill here on July 1st 1867. He was a good man.

  28. Paul Mc Taggart says:

    Today I was at a special service with some other special people to mark the passing & loss of one young life from the WW2.. At our special service the vicar said a few words & prayers ending in the famous words “We will remember them” Tomorrow Morning 1st July is 100 Years since the Battle of the Somme started 1,000’s of young men who were lose their lives on that day, stop what you are doing at some point in your busy day & think of them tomorrow !

  29. Lady Carnarvon says:

    It was so moving Paul was it not? Prayers and a hymn in a glade with birds nesting before our eyes in the trees whilst our thoughts turned to the pilot who died there and the undone years…

    • Paul Mc Taggart says:

      Oh Yes Lady Carnarvon the hymn was so touching, just their sweet soft voices in the middle of the wood it did get to some of the team I can tell you, ending with prayers and words from Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon with a 2 minutes silence…….

  30. Edward Van Egdom says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Mijn grandfather, a Belgian soldier, died in 1916 in a hospital in Calais, France after being woonded in the trenches. According tot the information I receiverd from the Ministerie of defence, het had served 18 months and 10 days in the frontlne.

    He left behind my grandmother and the sun het never saw or knew. I had the opportunity to visit his grave, 90 years after his death. It was the most emotionel moment of my life. Even after all this years, what then happened leaves its marks.

    It is as you rightfully say, our duty to keep remembering the sacrifice of so many.

  31. Diane Clavareau says:

    Thank you for the lines on the battle of the Somme, Lady Carnarvon. I have nobody of my family who died or was involved in this important terrible confrontment of 1 July 1916. But I watched the BBC program of 30 June and yesterday’s French program on same subject. Some years ago, my husband and I visited a cemetary in Northern France. So many Britisch tombstones or crosses… An emotional moment!. They had fought and died for our freedom and the only thing I could say silently was “thank you”…
    have listened to the song “the green fields of France” yesterday. Poem written by an Australian soldier if I am right? It made me cry and I have called, this morning, the Scottish friend who sent it to me. That reminds me of the movie “Joyeux Noël” where Germans, Scots and French listen together to the Christmas mass in Latin! Symbol of Europe? Feel very sorry for what happened last week in GB… What is our future to be made of in Europe? So very sorry. But thank you for your blog which I always enjoy. This is really the first time of a long reply on my side…

  32. Catherine says:

    Even if I am swiss and that I know nobody that was touched by this tragedy it still moves me. When I see all these people gathering to remember those who fought and died for their country, it makes me wish that all those who died could see this and know that they weren’t forget. I know that I live in a country that hasn’t fight in a war for a long long time but it doesn’t prevent me to feel close to all the families that suffered because of the war. I think it is a beautiful exmaple that war doesn’t bring only division but also union in a certain way.
    P.S: By the way , Lady Carnavon I found this website because I was looking for a way to contact you. I am currently doing a work about Downton Abbey, I want to show the evolution of the aristocracy through the series and through other historical works that I have read. Anyway I wanted to ask you some questions but I didn’t know how to contact you. So would you mind answering some of my questions ?

  33. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you for your thoughts! The cemeteries are very emotional. There ahve been some very good radio and TV programmes about the Somme this week.

  34. dee says:

    Hello Lady Canarvon,

    thank you for your most eloquent and thought provoking words on the battle of the Somme,

    My home -Newfoundland (now part of Canada) was it’s own Dominion until 1949 and in fact sent it’s own Regiment over to WW1
    as part of the Commonwealth –

    During the Battle of the Somme – at the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.

    On the morning of July 1st 1916 – 801 of Newfoundland’s Best and Brightest went “over the top” – only 68 answered roll call the next morning – some 733 were injured or killed, in a country of roughly 250,000 (at the time) inhabitants, it was a devastating loss. There was not a household in the country that didn’t know someone who was involved.
    Whilst it is a horrific part of our culture and history – it is not without it’s stories of heroism and pride as well – like that of Sgt Thomas Ricketts VC – the youngest person (17) to receive the Victoria Cross and King George the 5th bestowed the title of “Royal” to the Newfoundland Regiment – the only Regiment to receive the Title in WW1

    This past weekend we had many events in our (now) Province and in France to commemorate the Somme and Battle of Beaumont Hamel – Princess Ann was in attendance here (my dear Friend played at the ceremony) and Prince Charles attended at the Ceremony at Newfoundland Park at the Somme in France – The Band my Husband is part of (The Church Lads Brigade Regimental band) played at that ceremony (Minus my husband) and are now completing a #tourofhonour on the Trail of the Caribou

    My husband and I will be touring Highclere on 9th August of this year. It would be interesting to see if any of our forefathers convalesced at Highclere under Lady Almina’s great care. How would one access the lists of service men who stayed there?

    Many thanks for all of your wonderful work!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I have started trying to list the soldiers. I am simply behind. I do have some letters from women in Canada – I find it hard to read them every time.

  35. Nicole Woodward says:

    Lady Carnarvon, I so enjoy your blog. Sad , indeed to remember the history of war. The poem ” In Flanders Fiels” was committed to memory years ago as a sixth grade student. I still remember and recite those words.

  36. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Poems are good – I read them and share them. I try to learn a poem each month!!!!

  37. Guy Lipscomb says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon, My Grandfather, Sidney George Lipscomb MC was at the hospital in Bryanston Square in 1918. Having just read your book I was wondering whether you came across his name in your research. I have lots of documents relating to his wounding and his medical records, an Xray and even some fragments of bone, bit gruesome. I also have a wedding invite from Almina to him for her daughter Lady Evelyn’s Wedding in 1923. I wondered if you knew whether Almina sent invites to all the patients as it seems odd to receive a wedding invite some 5 years after being a patient in the hospital. Regards Guy Lipscomb

  38. Dee says:

    Greetings from across the pond in Canada again Lord and Lady Carnarvon,

    I will be traveling through Europe in August and have started a Blog on my adventure.
    I will be touring Highclere on 9th August, and with your kind permission, I would like to feature it ( and in particular Sir John A MacDonald’s visit and meetings with The 4th Earl to negotiate the Dominion Of Canada in 1867 )
    Would that be alright?

    Very best regards

  39. Tamra Delp says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    This blog entry was so interesting to me as I just finished your wonderful book about Lady Almina. I learned so much about World War I from reading the book. I can only imagine the amount of time you spent researching the war for your writing. The memory of World War I is not as prominent today as World War II, although they were both equally horrifying wars. Thank you for sharing so much detailed information about this time period. I also enjoyed reading about Lord and Lady Carnarvon and their families. What an incredible life they lived! Lady Almina was truly a woman ahead of her time in so many ways. I actually purchased your book at the gift shop at Highclere Castle in July. After visiting England for the past several summers from the U.S., I finally had the privilege of touring the castle from Downton Abbey, which was a dream come true for me. I could never get tickets before or either the castle was closed while I was there. I was so thrilled to finally see it! My oldest son and his wife live in England for school and their jobs. They both love living there and I can certainly understand why. I love it too. Your home is absolutely beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my visit. The Egyptian Exhibition was fascinating to me as I’ve always been interested in the story behind the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. I want to also thank you for the fundraising to help injured soldiers. My son is a veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I know how much he appreciates those who honor the sacrifice and service he and others have given to their countries.
    With kindest regards, Tammy

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