Good day all, I hope this latest missive finds you in good health! Today is November 11, and I hope that all my readers will remember to pause for a minutes silence at 11 am this morning.
Considering that it is now Remembrance Day I have left off discussion of the nuts and bolts as it were of the Great War. Now I feel it is time to talk about just two aspects of that awful conflict. What it was about and was it worth it?
Those two are very difficult to bring up now almost a hundred years later. I do however still clearly remember the few conversations I had with my Grandfather Harry House, he was lying in a hospital bed by a window in what must have been a Veterans ward. He was almost blind from the shrapnel wound he’d received long decades before. Now I was just a young child and, I suppose I didn’t know any better, or maybe it was just the insatiable curiosity of the young. So of course I asked him about the War. To my father’s surprise ‘Pop’ spoke for about fifteen minutes on what he’d seen and what had happened. That in my father’s experience was the longest conversation he’d ever heard about the event that had so affected the House clan. Harry House in all the long years since had never spoken about the horror and suffering he must have seen daily, and the loss of friends and mates. It was something remembered ‘personally’ a long running grief.
Now this is in a way, my own personal section, I did not serve in any great conflict though I did serve in the Army reserves, and apparently until a few years ago was still liable to be called up if we had a national crisis. I have however over the years spoken to quite a few veterans of both World Wars and I have also studied letters, journals, memoirs, official reports and histories about those conflicts. I can try and be dispassionate and just explain dryly the impartial forces of history, that unseeing and unfeeling smashed over so many families. Other historians can do that, I however cannot. Those losses in the trenches are to me very real, the agony of being evacuated from Gallipoli in the last month as a dysentery case and months of convalescence for Harry House does effect how I examine the past.
As I said above I have read through a large number of books and first hand accounts of the Great War and I now find that my beliefs on this disaster have changed. No, not about the slaughter of millions, but rather the individual and collective responsibility for that tragedy. It has hardened my resolve that we must maintain the deep and a biding debt of memory that we owe to those who believed they were doing their duty and protecting their families and country.
Some twenty years ago I read a very strange book on the First World War, looking back I can see it as revisionist history of the worst kind. The historian tried to pass over that the losses on the Western Front probably weren’t that bad and when taken as an averaged proportion of the population were not as severe as many other writers and historians had made out. I actually had to pause a moment and look intently at the book and it was an act of supreme restraint not to give it the pitch and slam it against the wall, if I recall aright the work was a justification of General Haig and his strategies at The Somme and other similar blood baths. I tried to figure out how any imbecile could get away with that piece of drivel and felt so angry. Only recently have I come to realise that in the past decades General Haig who since has gained the appellation of ‘Butcher’ Haig was poorly served by this revisionist idiot. Though Haig does bear some responsibility as the commander of the British forces on the Western Front, he was as much a victim of technology and circumstance as the lowest soldier in the trenches. He wasn’t some unfeeling monster who coldly and thoughtless sent thousands to certain death ‘Over the Top’. Those commanders did exist and unfortunately there were quite a few on both sides.
Back to the first point of that revisionist the losses were not so great when put against the total size of manpower and population figures. Well I remember reading more than one eyewitness account on both sides of men who’d volunteered with all their fellow classmates or other lads in the town, factory or village. I must mention that these personal memoirs number in their hundreds and all of them have in common one fact. Due to injury or illness or chance these men avoided one or more of the battles that their unit was involved in. Later they record, with what must be a mix of horror and guilty relief that by the end of the campaign, they are the lone survivor of all their companions.
Another example is the loss of the British battle cruisers at the Battle of Jutland, the Princess Royal and the Queen Mary, (photo) they both exploded instantly on being hit by shells. The cause was most probably technical and operational defects, and thus two thousand men went to the bottom of the North Sea. There were no survivors, and the action happened within minutes of the opening of the battle. Unfortunately that was all too often the story of the Great War, the technological application of destruction far out weighted the brave fragility of men.
That is just a small sample of the losses, the question we always ask at the end of a conflict is, was it worth it? Well to Harry House, for whatever the pain and suffering you and your companions went through, I fear that we had little choice. It may sound like a phrase of arrant jingoism and utilising the tone of unregarding sniffy superiority of the sort that I loath. However I sit here, somewhat poor in worldly wealth, writing about this and my children go to school in essentially a peaceful relatively safe country. I think despite our current very minor complaints we have a good life, thanks to them.
That was not the intention of the German elite. It is a fundamental truth borne out by historical records and archives, that the German General Staff and the highest echelons of government both before and during the First World War was actively trying for the complete subjugation of Europe. In an act of further insanity, by 1917 in the darkest and grimmest days of the war, they were already planning on a second and later stage of the conflict that would cripple Britain, secure Belgium and knock out any threat from America. All this was irrespective of the millions of men lost by then on both sides, as well as the employment of any justifiable weapon or tactic so long as it gave them victory. So to all those post modern revisionists I ask this question. Exactly where in this disaster, is the responsibility to a people, or a nation that is entrusted in the care of those who govern?
So to Harry House, it is to my profound sorrow that you had to experience that awful horror and I can only offer you two pieces of consolation. If the Great War had happened several years later, as was originally planned then it would have been worse. The second is your family does now understand what you went through, and we do appreciate your sacrifice.
Regards Greg House and family