Tommy, p.71Richard Holmes
Britain had begun to remember her dead while the war was still on, with ‘street shrines’, the first of which was established in an east London street where sixty-five men had enlisted from forty houses. The Imperial War Museum was established in 1917 specifically to commemorate the war, and after the armistice a great range of memorials, public and private, sprang up across the land, marking a sacrifice which was wholly unprecedented. What became the Imperial War Graves Commission was established as the Graves Registration Commission in March 1915, and was responsible for the identification and burial of British and Commonwealth war dead, and for the commemoration of the missing on those huge memorials of which Thiepval and Tyne Cot are perhaps the best known. The memorialisation of the war has spun off on its own trajectory long after official memorials were completed, and the cemeteries received headstones to replace their wooden crosses in the 1930s. In recent years the Accrington Pals have received their memorial, a brick wall on the edge of the copse from which they attacked; a dignified stone commemorates the Liverpool and Manchester Pals’ battalions who took Montauban on 1 July 1916, and the dragon of the 38th Welsh Division glares out at Mametz Wood. The Irish Peace Park on Messines Ridge, commemorating all Ireland’s dead, has an imposing stone tower at its centre, and at 11.00 am on 11 November each year the sun shines straight from memorial stone to tower, like a sundial marking the passage of lives rather than time. It is a long-deserved recognition, for many Southern Irish soldiers who fought so well for Britain found themselves undeservedly mistrusted by their comrades in arms after the Easter Rising of 1916, and were later discriminated against in a newly-independent nation.
Families were allowed to add their own inscriptions to the graves of their loved ones, and these, like so much else, chart the war’s ambivalence. There is pride. Private E. George of the 3rd Hussars lies beside the gentle Aisne, and his parents’ inscription affirms: ‘A SOLDIER’S SON, A SOLDIER’S BROTHER, HE DIED AS A SOLDIER SHOULD’. The parents of Second Lieutenant W. A. Stanhope Forbes, killed on the Somme, believed that: ‘HE SAW BEYOND THE FILTH OF BATTLE AND THOUGHT DEATH A FAIR PRICE TO PAY TO BELONG TO THE COMPANY OF THESE FELLOWS’. Private Alf Goodlad of the Accringtons told his parents that: ‘THE FRENCH ARE A GRAND NATION, AND WORTH FIGHTING FOR’, and they have put it on his grave. Two brothers, buried near Serre, are ‘UNIS DANS LE MORT COMME ILS L’ETAIENT DANS LA VIE’. Captain M. K. Lloyd of the Grenadiers was killed on 15 September 1916, and his headstone tells us what he would have been as well as what he was, a veteran of First Ypres; he was also a baronet’s only son.
There is cold fury too, like ‘SCHOOL WAR DEATH’ on a private’s headstone at Cambrai and ‘SACRIFICED TO THE FALLACY THAT WAR CAN END WAR’ on a subaltern’s at Tyne Cot. More often the Bible and Shakespeare play their dignified part, the latter never better than for Raymond Asquith: ‘SMALL TIME BUT IN THAT SMALL MOST GREATLY LIVED THIS STAR OF ENGLAND’. Sometimes brave grief overwhelms me. What father of daughters can hope not to blink hard when he sees that a gunner captain’s girls have had ‘THE GOOD LORD HAS TAKEN AWAY OUR HERO DADDY’ written above their father’s grave. And often the graves themselves give us pause for thought. What incomprehensible fate brought Private Louis Cuckle from the Ukraine by way of Hull to die below Mountauban Ridge in a territorial battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, and how did German-born Sergeant Major Kleinstuber, bandmaster of a Cameronian battalion, finish up in the same cemetery?
The eleventh hour of the eleventh month became the moment when the nation commemorated its war dead. The Cenotaph, a symbolic empty tomb in Whitehall, was unveiled by King George V on 11 November 1920, on the same day that the Unknown Warrior, an unidentified corpse chosen blindly from amongst the war dead, was interred in Westminster Abbey. It is hard for those of us used to the scale of modern commemoration to grasp just how well-attended Remembrance Day was, not simply in London but in towns and villages across the land, in the 1920s, as survivors and families gathered round new memorials to mourn and remember. Those who had been under fire were in a class of their own, and they knew it. They were at once grateful and guilty to have survived: ‘We who are left know well that we would not be here if we had been as good men as they …’52 ‘As the two minutes silence ticks away …’ wrote William Carr,
I think of Watson at Cambrai, of Stevenson at Hangard, of a German machine-gunner and a stretcher party at Morlancourt. Armistice Day is not, as I heard one young minister of the kirk proclaim to a congregation of war veterans, an outdated glorification of war. We recall our comrades and our enemy and we pray for peace.53
Three medals distinguished those who had served on the Western Front in the first two years of the war. The Mons Star, or 1914–15 Star (issued depending on a the date of a man’s arrival in France), the British War Medal and the Victory Medal all formed a trio nicknamed Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. Men who had arrived after 1 January 1916 received only the last two medals, small recognition for such service. At Remembrance Day in 1929, with unemployment cutting deep and too many medals gone to the pawnshop, hundreds of veterans turned out in proud defiance with their pawn tickets pinned to their lapels where the brass, nickel and ribbon used to go.
That very year Charles Douie (whose house at Rugby school had lost twenty-three of the fifty-six boys of his year) complained that: ‘The war is an improper subject for conversation, and all references to it are dismissed except on Armistice Day. On one day of the year the dead at least have their meed of honour; the living are without honour even on that day.’54 It is often said that the war’s veterans never spoke about their experiences, but this is not true. They spoke freely to insiders, to comrades in national veterans’ organisations, of which the British Legion, vigorously championed by Haig, became the best-known; in scores of smaller clubs and associations, and to the men remembered as ‘uncles’ by my father’s generation, who unfailingly appeared in collar and tie on Sundays and talked about things as secret as the rites of some arcane religion. For just as wartime leave had drawn a sharp dividing line between front and Blighty, so the peace cut even deeper. There were things a man could never share, even, or perhaps especially, with those he loved the most. For how could you describe being splashed by your best friend’s stomach contents, seeing barbed wire draped with entrails, or praying that the next shell would kill anyone, however much you admired them, rather than you? And how too could anyone understand the bliss of an army blanket on a stone floor, the delight of the quarter-bloke’s shout of ‘Gyp-oh’ when the hot bacon fat was brought on, or the pleasure of listening to the fifes squealing in the little square at Corbie?
It is small wonder that we sometimes find them hard to grasp, and try to judge them by poems they never read, or cast them in dramas they would never have bothered to watch. Like so many wars, the First World War could have been averted by more astute diplomacy and waged with greater skill. Like so many peaces, that which followed it could have been better drafted or more capably sustained. Yet we must judge the men who fought the war by their motives and achievements, not by the conflict’s origins or results. Let us, by all means, persist with those squabbles which will remain dear to historians. But let us never forget that generation whose courage and endurance lift my spirits and break my heart. And let us do better for their great-grandchildren than we did for them.
1 Brian Bond The Unquiet Western Front (Cambridge 2002) p. 26.
2 Omer Bartov ‘Trauma and Absence: France and Germany 1914–1945’ in Paul Addison and Angus Calder (eds) Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West 1939–45 (London 1997) pp. 348–58.
3 Charles Carrington Soldier from the Wars Returning (London 1965) p. 264.
4 Cyril Falls War Books (London 1995) pp. i-ix.
5 See Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914–1918 (London 1995).
6 David Jones In Parenthesis (London 1961) p.XV.
The Old Front Line
1 This incident is based on an attack described in Hanway R. Cumming A Brigadier in France (London 1922), although I have varied the detail and changed some names. The tactics generally follow those laid down in the February 1917 General Staff Publication SS144, The Normal Formation for the Attack.
2 Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the War (London 1922) p. 64 (iii).
3 Statistics pp. 248, 251–2.
4 John Ellis The Sharp End of War (Newton Abbot 1980) p. 4.
5 Guy Chapman A Passionate Prodigality (London 1985) p. 187.
6 Henry Williamson The Wet Flanders Plain (London 1987) p. 96.
7 Graham Seton-Hutchison Warrior (London ND) p. 200.
8 Peter Doyle Geology of the Western Front (London 1988) p. 16.
9 ’Arrival on the Somme’, G. F. Ellenberger Papers, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum.
10 Rowland Feilding War Letters to a Wife (London 1929) p. 76.
11 Bernard Martin Poor Bloody Infantry: A Subaltern on the Western Front (London 1987) p. 91.
12 Bruce Bairnsfather Bullets and Billets (London 1916) p. 238. Captain Bairnsfather was the originator of the fiercely-moustachioed cartoon character Old Bill, typical of the British regular in the early years of the war.
13 Quoted in Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau 14–18: Les Combattants des tranchées (Paris 1986) p. 88. Author’s translation.
14 Michael Moynihan (ed) A Place Called Armageddon (Newton Abbot 1975) p. 128.
15 Peter Vansittart (ed) John Masefield’s Letters from the Front 1915–17 (London 1984) p. 193.
16 C. P. Blacker Have You Forgotten Yet? (London 2000) p. 60.
17 Capt. J. C. Dunn The War the Infantry Knew (London 1987) p. 261.
18 Frank Richards Old Soldiers Never Die (London 1933) p. 13.
19 Stapleton Tench Eachus Diary 16 June 1916 on www.wardiaries.co.uk.
20 Dunn The War p. 384.
21 Charles Carrington Soldier from the Wars p. 136.
22 A. Lytton Sells (trans. and ed.) The Memoirs of James 11: His Campaigns as Duke of York 1652–1660 (Bloomington, Indiana, 1962) pp. 157, 189.
23 Wipers Times (London 1973) p. 6.
24 ‘Not King, nor Prince, nor Duke, nor Count am I, I am the Lord of Coucy.’
25 Dunn The War p. 223.
26 Captain R. H. D. Tompson Diary 1 September 1914, Tompson Papers, private collection.
27 Dunn The War p. 236.
28 Feilding War Letters pp. 79, 33.
29 Second Lieutenant H. M. Stanford to his parents, 11 and 28 November 1914, private collection.
30 John Masefield The Old Front Line (London 1917) p. 55.
31 Williamson Wet Flanders Plain pp. 95, 167.
32 Ian Ousby The Road to Verdun (London 2001) p. 263.
33 Ousby Verdun p. 269.
34 Masefield Old Front Line p. 11.
35 Major General Sir Ernest Swinton (ed) Twenty Years After: The Battlefields of 1914–18 Then and Now (2 vols, London 1920) I p. 2.
36 Lord Hankey The Supreme Command 1914–18 (London 1961) 2 vols, I pp. 79–82.
37 Cited in Paul-Marie de la Gorce The French Army: A Military Political History (New York 1963) pp. 89–92. The best modern scholarly study of the French army in this period remains Douglas Porch The March to the Marne (Cambridge 1981).
38 Quoted in Michael Howard ‘Men Against Fire: The Doctrine of the Offensive in 1914’ in Peter Paret (ed) Makers of Modem Strategy (Oxford 1986) pp. 510–26.
39 Cited in Sir James Edmonds History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914 (London 1923–25) 2 vols, I pp. 444–5.
40 Quoted in John Terraine Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier (London 1963) p. 181.
41 John Lucy There’s a Devil in the Drum (London 1938) pp. 113–14.
42 Lucy Devil p. 154.
43 Quoted in Richard Holmes The Little Field Marshal: Sir John French (London 1981) p. 233.
44 Quoted in Holmes Little Field Marshal p. 239.
45 French to George V, 2 October 1914, in Royal Archives GV Q832/72.
46 Terraine Haig p. 79.
47 French to Kitchener, 18 March 1915, French Papers, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum.
48 French Diary 12 July 1915, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum.
49 Haig Diary, 19 August 1915, Haig Papers, National Library of Scotland.
50 Minutes of 1st Army conference, 6 September 1915, Papers of Lieutenant General Sir Richard Butler, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum.
51 Captain G. C. Wynn If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West (London 1940) p. 77.
52 Capt. W. L. Weetman to Lt. Col. Foljambe, 25 October 1915, private collection.
53 William Philpott ‘Why the British were really on the Somme …’ in War in History Vol 9 No 4 2002 p. 459.
54 Rawlinson to Colonel Clive Wigram (the king’s assistant private secretary) 27 February 1917, quoted in Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, Command on the Western Front (London 1992) p. 139.
55 Brigadier General John Charteris At GHQ (London 1931) p. 143.
56 ‘Report of the Army Commander’s Remarks …’ quoted in Prior and Wilson Command p. 155.
57 Robin Neillands The Great War Generals on the Western Front 1914–18 (London 1998) p. 239.
58 Percy Jones Papers, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum. Jones, a journalist on the weekly magazine Truth, had joined the territorials before the war and volunteered for overseas service on its outbreak. He survived, only to be drowned in an accident in 1919.
59 Prior and Wilson Command p. 191.
60 Scott Macfie Papers, Department of Documente, Imperial War Museum.
61 Statistics pp. 408–9 (shrapnel) and pp. 412–13 (high explosive).
62 Ernst Junger The Storm of Steel (London 1929) pp. 93, 99.
63 Terraine Haig p. 222.
64 Rawlinson to Wigram, 29 August 1916, Wigram Papers, private collection. 65 John Jolliffe (ed.) Raymond Asquith: Life And Letters (London 1980).
66 John Masefield The Battle of the Somme (London 1919) p. 94.
67 I cannot speak too highly of Martin and Mary Middlebrook’s The Somme Battlefields (London 1991), a painstaking guide to these silent cities.
68 The essential analysis is M. J. Williams ‘Thirty Per Cent: A Study in Casualty Statistics’ in Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (February 1964) and ‘The Treatment of German losses on the Somme in the British Official History’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (February 1966).
69 Terraine Haig p. 232.
70 Charles Carrington (writing as Charles Edmonds) A Subaltern’s War (London 1929) p. 114.
71 Paddy Griffith Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army’s Art of Attack 1916–18 (London 1994) p. 65.
72 Jones In Parenthesis p. ix.
73 R. H. Tawney ‘Some Reflections of a Soldier’ in Nation October 1916.
74 Charteris GHQ p. 84.
75 The most scholarly recent account of the linkage between military and naval policy is Andrew A. Weist Passchendaele and the Royal Navy (Westport, Conn., 1995).
7676 Terraine Haig p. 273.
77 Philip Gibbs From Bapaume to Passchendaele 1917 (London 1918) p. 69.
78 Vansittart Masefield’s letters p. 223.
79 Rudolf Binding A Fataltit at War (London 1929) pp. 151–2.
80 E. L. Spears Prelude to Victory (London 1939) p. 223.
81 Spears Prelude p. 247.
82 Spears Prelude p. 507.
83 Ousby Verdun p. 250.
84 Foakes Papers, Department of 80 Documents, Imperial War Museum. Lance Corporal Foakes won the Military Medal for his bravery in the battle. His account ends with the dedication:
Remembering the 13th Royal Fusiliers who fell
And very best wishes to my son, Eric
85 J. H. Boraston (ed.)
86 Terraine Haig p. 310.
87 Wynn If Germany Attacks p. 273.
88 Quoted in Peter H. Liddle (ed.) Passchendaele in Perspective (London 1997) p. 36.
8989 John Hussey ‘The Flanders Battleground and the Weather in 1917’ in Liddle Passchendaele.
90 It appears to have originated with Edmonds in 1927 and then been publicised by Liddell Hart, which does not augur well. It lacks the quality of evidence which might induce any reasonable bench of magistrates to award a speeding fine.
91 Charteris GHQ p. 36.
92 Boraston Despatches p. 106.
93 Battalion War Diary in National Archives WO95.
94 Chambers Papers, Liddle Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
95 Terraine Haig p. 366.
96 This assessment is sustained by the careful Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson in Passchendaele (London 1996) which ranks, alongside Liddle’s invaluable work, as essential reading on the battle.
97 Quoted in John Terraine The Road to Passchendaele: The Flanders Offensive of 1917 (London 1977) p. 341.
9898 Quoted in Liddle Passchendaele p. 139.
99 Quoted in Liddle Passchendaele p. 360.
100 Quoted in Swinton Twenty Years II p. 1078.
101 Edwin Campion Vaughan Some Desperate Glory (London 1981) pp. 224–5.
102 A. V. Bullock Diary, Bullock Papers, Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum.
103 Aubrey Wade The War of the Guns (London 1936) p. 55.
104 Wade Guns p. 57.
105 Wade Guns p. 62.
106 Wade Guns p. 64.
107 Quoted in Malcolm Brown The Imperial War Museum Book of 1918 (London 1998) p. 46.
108 Quoted in Brown 1918 p. 14.
109 Terraine Haig p. 423.
110 John Laffin British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One (Stroud 1989) p. 170.
111 Report of Lieutenant C. B. Arnold, Tank Museum, Bovington.
112 Terraine Haig p. 458. See also first-rate tactical analysis in Prior and Wilson Command pp. 316–26.
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