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How German Officer Stefan Westmann Experienced The Battle Of The Somme

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Stefan Westmann, a German medical officer, endured the long British artillery bombardment that began the Battle of the Somme.

Stefan Westmann was from Berlin. In 1914, he was a medical student at Freiburg University. He was called up for National Service in April that year into the local Freiburg Infantry Regiment No.113, which was mobilised when the First World War broke out in August.

His first experience of trench warfare was against the French. He then briefly served on the Eastern Front before returning to France and the trenches at Serre, on the Somme.

There, in December 1914, he was wounded by shellfire. While he was recovering, it was discovered that he had been a medical student. As a result, he was given a commission into the Medical Corps and worked at a German hospital in St Quentin.

In 1916, Westmann was sent to Verdun. Just before the Battle of the Somme, he became medical officer attached to Infantry Regiment No.119, stationed just south of Beaumont-Hamel.

He witnessed the British bombardment and the opening attack, which he graphically described in an interview in 1963:

'For seven days and nights we were under incessant bombardment. Day and night, the shells - heavy and light ones - came upon us. Our dugouts crumbled. They fell upon us and we had to dig ourselves and our comrades out. Sometimes we found them suffocated; sometimes smashed to pulp.'

Westmann continued serving as a medical officer, was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and survived the war. On his return to Berlin he resumed his civilian medical career, but left Germany when Hitler came to power. He settled in Britain, changed his name to Stephen Westman, and ran a successful Harley Street practice. Shortly before he died, he wrote a memoir Surgeon with the Kaiser’s Army.