Remembering The Great War

   I remember today the 100 anniversary of the start of World War 1 although there were many declarations of war in the days before August 4. Germany and Russia declared war on August 1.France and Germany declared war on the 3rd and Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4. The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey is supposed to have said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life”. As is true of  many pithy and prophetic sayings, Grey didn’t say it.

The French and British Armies threw themselves into a series of pointless attacks in the next three years. When these attacks failed, the generals, like politicians everywhere, declared each failure a success. The worst of these was Passchendaele where the British, Anzacs and Canadians struggled through, and sometimes were drowned, in the mud for an inconsequential gain. It is said that one British general, seeing the landscape for the first time, burst into tears and said, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?" Alas, that story is untrue, the British Command, knew they were sending men to fight in mud that paralyzed movement, but did it regardless. After bashing away at the Germans for several months and gaining nothing, the British had sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties, with the number still disputed. Tanks were even sent forward and got stuck immediately. In much drier country, near Cambrai, massed British tanks broke through the German front without even artillery preparation, as easily “as cracking an egg.” There were no troops to exploit the breakthrough and the success was wasted.

   Douglas Haig, commander of the British troops in France, was convinced that the rifle bullet and machine gun could not stop his cavalry which he would turn loose once the German line was pierced at Passchendaele. Since machine gun and magazine rifle fire had always stopped cavalry, the origin of his notion is obscure.

   It was said that the British Army was made up of “lions led by donkeys.” Whatever the failings of the High Command, the heroism of the ordinary soldier and officer could never be questioned. Alas, the whole thing had to be repeated, on a larger scale, a little more than 20 tears later.

I salute the men who fought, however badly they were led by the High Command.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: