The following as excerpt from Jon E. Lewis' "The First World War", a collection of diary entries from those who witnessed the war.
Friedrich Steinbrecher, German Army
Steinbrecher was killed in action in 1917.
August 12th 1916
Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word! All the things I am now once more enjoying - bed, coffee, rest at night, water - seem unnatural and as if I had no right to them. And yet I was only there a week.
At the beginning of the month we left our old position. During the lorry and train journey we were still quite cherry. We knew what we were wanted for. Then came bivouacs, an "alarm", and we were rushed up through shell-shattered villages and barrage into the turmoil of war. The enemy was firing with 12-inch guns. There was a perfect torrent of shells. Sooner than we expected we were in the thick of it. First in the artillery position. Columns were tearing hither and thither as if possessed. The gunners could no longer see or hear. Very lights were going up along the whole front, and there was a deafening noise: the cries of wounded, orders, reports.
At noon the gun-fire became even more intense, and then came the order: "The French have broken through. Counter-attack!"
We advanced through the shattered wood in a hail of shells. I don't know how I found the right way. Then across an expanse of shell craters, on and on. Falling down and getting up again. Machine-guns were firing. I had to cut across our own barrage and the enemy's. I am untouched.
At last we reach the front line. Frenchmen are forcing their way in. The tide of battle ebbs and flows. Then things get quieter. We have not fallen back a foot. Now one's eyes begin to see things. I want to keep running on - to stand still and look is horrible. "A wall of dead and wounded!" How often have I read that phrase! Now I know what it means.
I have witnessed scenes of heroism and weakness. Men who can endure every privation. Being brave is not only a matter of will, it also requires strong nerves, though the will can do a great deal. A Division Commander dubbed us the "Iron Brigade" and said he had never seen anything like it. I wish it had all been only a dream, a bead dream. And yet it was a joy to see such heroes stand and fall. The bloody work cost us 177 men. We shall never forget Chaulmes and Vermandovillers.