Friday, July 1, 2016

Somme Centenary

Tolkien circa 1907
It is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  You may know that Tolkien, along with his long-time friends and countless other brave men fought over a month long period during World War I.  It is a great opportunity to commemorate their sacrifice and say a prayer for the souls lost.

From an article written by Daniel Helen through the Tolkien Society:
As we mark 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien fans will be remembering the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), the small group of friends from King Edward’s School Birmingham who were tragically caught up by war. 
It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. The Allied bombardment of the German lines availed to little as 19,240 British soldiers were mowed down by gun and rifle fire as they advanced. 
Robert Quilter Gilson circa around
Tolkien was an officer in the 11th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Fortunately not part of the first Somme assault, they were held in reserve and went on to capture Ovillers a couple of weeks later. 
Robert Quilter Gilson, one of Tolkien’s closest friends, died on the first day of the Somme leading his men over the top near La Boisselle. 
Geoffrey Bache Smith, another member of the T.C.B.S., later died after being injured by a shell burst just as the Battle of the Somme was petering out. 
2nd Lieut Tolkien contracted trench fever towards the end of October and returned to England on 8 November. Out of the four young men who formed the core of the T.C.B.S., only Tolkien and naval officer Christopher Wiseman survived the Great War. 
As Tolkien later wrote in the foreword the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, “by 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead". 
Below are just some of the ways Tolkien fans will be remembering the T.C.B.S. and the First World War. 
Geoffery Bache Smith circa around 1915
Toast the T.C.B.S.
Individuals and local groups such as London’s Northfarthing smial* will be raising a glass in memory of Robert Gilson, G.B. Smith, and the T.C.B.S. as a whole.
* Northfarthing will meet at Penderel’s Oak in Holborn from 20.00 on Saturday 2 July. 
The Tolkien Society SeminarThe theme of The Tolkien Society Seminar 2016 – “Life, Death, and Immortality” – was chosen to commemorate Tolkien and the Great War.
It will be held at the Hilton Leeds City on Sunday 3 July. Tickets can be purchased now, or on the door. 
BBC Four: War of WordsThe BBC will be re-airing “War of Words: Soldier-Poets of the Somme“, which focused on the war poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg and J.R.R. Tolkien. It will be broadcast on BBC Four at 21.00 on Sunday 3 July.
Staffordshire ExhibitionThe roving “J.R.R. Tolkien in Staffordshire” exhibition is currently at Rugeley Library until Saturday 2 July. It commemorates Tolkien’s time in Staffordshire during the First World War.
After 2 July, the exhibition will be at Great Haywood Memorial Hall between 5 and 10 July. 
King Edward’s School, Birmingham DocumentariesKing Edward’s School, Birmingham has produced two documentaries – one on Tolkien himself and another on Robert Gilson – to commemorate its former pupils in the T.C.B.S. and their involvement in the Great War.


  1. It's also sad that even Tolkien's friendship with Christopher Wiseman did not last and they were estranged for many years until just shortly before Tolkien's death.

    1. Very true, George; it just goes to show that friendships do not always last.