The following are first hand quotes and diary extracts about the massive destruction during the First World War. They are taken from Paul Allens book 'Neath a foreign sky.'
Extract: It was impossible to bury them all
The 'unwanted battle' of Loos, one of the fiercest and bloodiest contests of the war had cost the British 50,000 casualties, of which, according to the Official History, 'some 800 officers and 15,000 men were killed, or missing and never heard of again'. When the losses suffered by the French are included the number rises to 115,000 casualties, compared to the German's estimated 50,000. Most of those that had been killed had never been afforded a decent burial, a witness to the carnage would later say:
"if you ever had to write home about a particular mate you'd always say that he got it cleanly and quickly."
'It was impossible to bury them all, they lay in the trenches where they had fallen or had been slung and earth had just been put on top of them and when the rain came it washed most of the earth away. You'd go along the trenches and you'd see a boot and puttee sticking out, or an arm or hand, sometimes faces. Not only would you see, but you'd be walking on them, slipping and sliding. The stench was terrible because of all that rotting flesh. When you think of all the bits and pieces you saw! But if you ever had to write home about a particular mate you'd always say that he got it cleanly and quickly with a bullet and he didn't know what happened'
Extract: Pozieres Ridge
...In the wake of the fighting the battlefield was said to have been 'the revelation of a most unspeakable concentration of death'. The dead were trampled underfoot, the terrain littered with the remains of the men who had contested Guillemont. A Padre who bore witness to the dreadful carnage would later write:
"our journey lay through a narrow trench, the floor of which consisted of deep thick mud, and the bodies of dead men trodden underfoot."
'The first part of our journey lay through a narrow trench, the floor of which consisted of deep thick mud, and the bodies of dead men trodden underfoot. It was horrible beyond description, but there was no help for it, and on the half rotten corpses of our own brave men we marched in silence, everyone busy with his own thoughts...Half an hour of this brought us out in the open into the middle of the battlefield of some days previous. The wounded, at least I hope so, had all been removed, but the dead lay there stiff and stark, with open staring eyes, just as they had fallen. Good God such a sight! I had tried to prepare myself for this, but all I had read or pictured gave me little idea of the reality'
Extract: Total desolation
...Barely recognisable as trenches the men of the German 84TH Reserve Regiment had nonetheless put up a fierce resistance in their defence, the Germans had also put on terrific artillery 'strafe', the likes of which had never been encountered before. Geoffrey Malins, a British War Photographer had gone up to a position known to the British as 'The Chalk Pit', near Contalmaison Wood to film the scene;
'The enemy must have been putting 9-inch and 12-inch stuff in there, for they were sending up huge clouds of smoke and debris...From the chalk pit to Pozieres was no great distance. The ground was littered with every description of equipment just as it had been left by the flying Huns, and dead bodies were everywhere...The place was desolation in the extreme. The village was absolutely non-existent. There was not a vestige of buildings remaining, with one exception, and that was place called by the Germans 'Gibraltar', a reinforced concrete emplacement he had used for machine guns. The few trees that had survived the terrible blasting were just stumps, no more'
Extract: Flamethrower - Flanders june 1916
Close on the heels of the explosion the 4TH Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment had stormed the crater supported by an artillery barrage. The Middlesex had met with little resistance at first, however, as had been demonstrated on innumerable occasions before the 'Boche' were quick off the mark in counter attacking their lost position. Hell bent on recovering their lost ground they had thrown everything they could at the British soldiers during the ensuing terrible few days, artillery shells, rifle and machine gun fire, in such intensity that one soldier had felt that...'every German gun in Belgium was pouring fire on this one small corner of the Salient'
The crater had eventually been lost during the early hours of the 30TH of July when the Germans had subjected the residents of the crater, the unseasoned 8TH Battalion of the Rifle Brigade to an attack by flamethrowers, one of the few survivors of the onslaught would later recall;
"The men caught in the blast of the fire were never seen again."
'A sudden hissing sound and a bright crimson glare over the crater turned the whole scene red. As I looked I saw three or four distinct jets of flame- like a line of powerful fire hoses spraying fire instead of water shoot across my fire trench. The men caught in the blast of the fire were never seen again'
Extract: All were casualties
In the second wave of the Guards attack, the 3RD Grenadier's together with the 1ST Scots Guards and three tanks had been given the task of capturing Hamelincourt and an old British trench system known as Hamerville Trench' located some seven hundred yards to the east of the village and had not been scheduled to begin their assault until twenty minutes after Zero. Whilst waiting for the order to 'go over' Carstairs's position had been hit by shellfire. Whilst his companions had been wounded the Lieutenant had been little more than dazed and confused by the experience, and had duly gathered himself together to follow the remainder of the battalion;
'Hoisting myself out I went along to get the other men up and over, but the first group ten yards further on paid no attention to my command. All were casualties. An officer wounded in the back and five men killed and wounded'
Extract: Fought to a standstill
By the end of the conflict all the combatants had been near to total collapse, the German Army's commander, Ludendorff, had gone so far as to concede that his Army 'had been fought to a standstill and was utterly worn out'...
Extract: Stench of the dead
Charles Philpot is officially recorded as being killed in action during the night of the 11TH/12TH of May 1917, five days later the ferocious fighting in the 'blood tub' had finally been brought to an end when the whole of Bullecourt had been taken by the men of 58TH Division. By this time the once peaceful village had ceased to exist, the field of battle resembling little more than a slaughter house where;
"He never saw a battlefield where the living and the unburied dead remained in such proximity for so long."
'The dead of both sides lay in clumps all over the battle field, and in the bottom or under the parapets of the trenches many hundreds had been hastily covered with a little earth. One witness after speaking of the nauseating stench expresses his astonishment 'that any human beings could hold and fight under these conditions'. He added that he never saw a battlefield, Ypres in 1917 not excepted, where the living and the unburied dead remained in such proximity for so long'...No wonder that no identifiable remains of Charles Philpot had been recovered recovered from the battlefield. His name had eventually been included in Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial to the Missing. 
 Page 479, Military Operations France & Belgium, Volume 2, 1917; Captain Cyril Falls; Macmillan, 1940.
Extract: Without any sense of horror
Moore and the remainder of the grievously wounded had lain in no mans land throughout the remainder of that long hot spring day. With the onset of darkness stretcher parties from the 13TH Battalion had gone out to bring in their comrades, amongst the carrying parties had been Private Surfleet, who had recorded in his diary;
"we piled those bodies like so many huge logs, without any sense of horror at such a gruesome task."
'We went out at night on a stretcher bearing party; quite the most efficient and well-organised affair I have been on. We first of all got in all the wounded we could find and scoured the whole area. I think it is credible that every wounded man was brought in: a different tale to that of previous attacks on this seemingly impregnable wood, and far easier than that of that unforgettable November 13TH, when mud and shelling made the task almost impossible. There were dozens of dead bodies about, we collected all we could and stacked them in piles ready for removal to a decent burial further back. I am still amazed at the casual way we piled those bodies like so many huge logs, without any sense of horror at such a gruesome task'
The Canadian Corps had begun to arrive on the Somme in late August 1916, the First Division having been the first to lead the way south, and for many the first experience of the area came with the heavily damaged town of Albert. Positioned just behind the front the town had been shelled since the beginning of the war and had been the gateway to the front line for thousands of troops, a soldier had subsequently wrote;
'In the valley below were the ruins of Albert, not all of the homes destroyed; and provoking voluble comment the Church of Notre Dame Brebieres with its 'Hanging Virgin'. The legend surrounding the statue was well known, nor did its mysticism lose any spiritual qualities in the retelling. With more hope than faith the prophetic utterances passed along from the Imperial Troops, were repeated: when the Virgin toppled from her precarious perch, the war would end. It is not to be denied that those who found some comfort from the legend hoped longingly for the Virgin's fall in 1916'... 
A few days after their first taste of action the depleted ranks of the Thirteenth Battalion had mustered for the customary post battle 'roll call' where it had been found that six officers had been killed and a further six were wounded [two of whom had later died of their wounds] and four had been captured. Of the 'other ranks', nearly four hundred had either been killed, wounded, or were missing. [The 12TH Battalion had suffered a total of 16 officers and 369 'other ranks' killed, wounded, and missing]. Amongst those who had not answered their names was one soldier from Scarborough; 13/644 Sergeant Arthur Robinson.
Extract: Without any sense of horror
"I thought my number was up proper"
After the Battle the injured Private Hepburn had said...'I'm afraid few must remain of my Battalion of the West Yorks, for I saw my Captain, sergeant major, and three sergeants put out of action, in addition to the number of men. I consider myself highly fortunate and can shake hands with myself at having got through, for I thought my number was up proper'