THE SOMME, by Richard van Emden. Published by Pen and Sword Military ( £25. Hardback. Tel: 01226 734222

THE Battle of the Somme during the First World War involved a four-and-a-half-month campaign fought on the rolling slopes of Picardy from July to mid-November 1916, which cost Britain and her allies 650,000 casualties. No city, town or village would escape the terrible repercussions of an offensive unparalleled in British history for its longevity and ferocity.

The British occupied the Somme for nearly a year before the offensive began and for four months after it officially ceased. Here, the pre-eminent historian author tells the 20-month long story using a wide collection of soldiers’ recollections – including new and rarely read first-hand accounts of the fighting by the men themselves – and nearly 170 photographs taken by combatants on their own illegally-held cameras, many of which have never been previously published.

In a letter to his mother written before the battle commenced, Lieutenant Alex Thompson, of the 1/6th Northumberland Fusiliers, said: “Well, we are now just about ready for the biggest fight in the history of the world. No-one knows what will happen after tomorrow.”

After the battle began, Lieutenant Arthur Terry of the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers, wrote: “The casualties have been very heavy so far as we can learn, but the majority of the damage seems to have been done by machine guns so there is good hope of a very large percentage making a good recovery.

“Major Mackintosh is supposed to be wounded and lying out on the field still. They cannot get him on account of snipers. As for the men, I daren’t think of the losses.” The next day he recorded “Major Mackintosh turned up this morning with his right arm shattered and a nasty wound on the chest. His physical strength and willpower enabled him to get to the ambulance on his own but it must have been absolute torture for him.”

Recounting his first impressions on arriving at the Front, Lance Corporal George Brown of the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish) said: “Most of the men had cigarettes hanging from their lower lips and their conversation consisted of a series of grunts. They are down and out. No spirit, no cheerfulness. These fellows have suffered and their memories are too vivid to be brushed aside, too near to be laughed away.”

And Captain Philip Gosse, Royal Army Medical Corps, 10th Northumberland Fusiliers, wrote about his close shave with an incoming shell as he was tending a wounded German soldier. “I was bandaging him when suddenly we heard the awful scream of a huge shell approaching. There was a terrific crash and explosion, the dugout shook and daylight was blotted out. When the light returned I found myself lying on the floor closely embracing and as closely embraced by my German prisoner. Perhaps it was the reaction from acute terror to the absurdity of the situation which made us both laugh and laugh again. Fear makes strange bedfellows.

CELEBRATING 200 YEARS OF NORTH EAST BUSINESS. Published by Offstone Publishing on behalf of the North East Chamber of Commerce. £20. Hardback. 

THE foundations of what would become today’s North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) were created when a group of business leaders formed the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce in 1815. For more than two centuries NECC members have worked collectively for the region, developing ground-breaking innovations and playing key roles through decades of industrial and economic change.

This informative book contains a timeline of landmark achievements in the region. In 1833 Newcastle was given a licence to trade with the East India Company and in 1834 work began to build a modern quayside on the Tyne. Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Sunderland chambers of commerce were formed between 1863 and 1879.

In 1875 chamber members commissioned and paid for survey work to put in place the first deepwater wharves at Teesport. In 1907 Rington’s founder Samuel Smith began selling tea from a horse and cart. Among more recent developments, 1968 saw the constitution of the Port of Tyne Authority, and in 1981 the software giant Sage was founded.

THE HERMIT OF WARKWORTH: THE TRAGIC TALE OF SIR BERTRAM OF BOTHAL, compiled by Beryl Holmes (email: ; tel: (01665) 712077. £3 (all proceeds to Marie Curie). Softback.

THE romanticised version of Sir Bertram’s legend begins with him pledging to Isabel, daughter of Lord Widdrington, that he would carry out a daring deed to be worthy of marrying her. His chance came when Earl Percy led his knights into Scotland to attack Earl Douglas, but in a bloody battle Bertram was badly wounded and taken to Wark Castle where he asked for a message to be sent to Isabel, begging her to come to his side.

When she failed to arrive, Bertram and his brother discovered that she had disappeared on the journey to Wark and the two brothers decided to separate to search for her. When Bertram reached the castle of a Scottish chieftain where Isabel was being held captive, he saw a man dressed in highland costume who was about to take her away on horseback.

As he attacked and killed his ‘enemy’ – his brother in disguise – he also accidentally killed his betrothed. In penitence, he gave all his land and wealth to the poor and spent the rest of his life in a tiny hermitage beside the River Coquet.

An original three-part ballad written on the subject by Thomas Percy in the 18th century is reproduced, along with a description of the Hermitage and an outline of its history which first appeared in Ian Smith’s guide to Warkworth village.