Amanda Mason
Tuesday 26 June 2018

J R R Tolkien, writer, academic and author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, endured life in the front line trenches of the Somme throughout the summer and autumn of 1916.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was brought up in Birmingham and from the age of 12, after the death of both parents, he was looked after by a local priest. He graduated from Oxford University in June 1915 and soon obtained a commission in the British Army as a Second Lieutenant.

Weapons and ammunition

Tolkien's Webley Mk V

Weapons and ammunition

Tolkien's Webley Mk V

Webley service revolver owned by J R R Tolkien.

In June 1916 Tolkien went to France and was posted to the 11th Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers. From July onwards his battalion went in and out of the line along the northern sector of the Somme. He occupied front line trenches in Beaumont-Hamel, Serre and the Leipzig Salient. On 28 September they undertook a successful raid against the Pope's Nose opposite Thiepval and on 21 October helped to capture Regina Trench. In both of these actions, Tolkien served as Battalion Signalling Officer.

At the end of October, worn down by weeks of tension and wretched conditions, Tolkien contracted trench fever and was sent back to hospital in Birmingham. He remained unfit for the rest of the war.

The impact of the battle remained with him for the rest of his life and many people have seen its influence in his writing.

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