Best of chums

Altogether now: Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, General Joseph Joffre, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George

What did commanders in the West think they were up to? It can be the hardest of all things to understand.

Back in 1916, the big thinking had been that enough hard slogging might weaken the enemy front. More recently, and even more disastrously, Nivelle had believed he could win a sudden and spectacular victory. Now came a re-think.

And with good reason. The war was going disastrously at sea and Britain faced starvation. That piled on the pressure. Then there was the fact that Russia, the key protagonist in the Entente’s war effort in the East, had come to a virtual military standstill.

When the War Cabinet met on 1st May, Lloyd George said that Pétain’s new plan to remain on the defensive until 1918, at which point American help would arrive, had “some appeal” for himIt had no appeal for Haig and Robertson who protested that passivity was just what the Germans wanted. It would make the Allies look frightened, would encourage Germany to turn aggressive, and give them a breathing space in which to crush Russia and Italy. In other words, they said, if we were to be at war  we must make war. Milne wrote to Robertson on 1st May saying, “Our object is not primarily the direct defence of French soil, but to win the war and secure British interests.

Jan Smuts

What were the best next steps? Jellicoe had argued that it was vital to deprive Germany of the naval bases on the Channel coast and the South African general, Smuts, insisted that France should take over more of the line. The Allied generals agreed that,

our object can be obtained by relentlessly attacking with limited objectives, while making the fullest use of our artillery. By this means we hope to gain our ends with the minimum loss possible.

Future operations would, in other words, not endeavour to break the German line but would aim at “wearing down and exhausting the enemy’s resistance”.

“Relentless attack” amounted to a policy of attrition as, even if the German line were not broken, “we might bring them to a frame of mind in which they would agree to a peace on terms which would be acceptable to the Allies”. It was agreed the BEF would lead the next great offensive with the French in support.

For Lloyd George, this meant a volte-face. He had previously -  noisily – championed Nivelle and slapped down Haig. At the Paris Conference on 4th-5th May, he seemed a man transformed. As Esher informed Haig:

He has entirely changed his point of view as to the respective merits of the chiefs of the Allied army, their staffs, and powers of offence. It is almost comic to see how the balance has turned. For the moment I do not think you could do wrong.

On 3rd May, Haig’s diary recorded that:

At 9.30pm I saw the Prime Minister with Gen. Robertson…  He is here, he says, to press whatever plan Robertson and I decide on. Rather a changed attitude for him to adopt since the Calais Conference.

Haig recorded that the Prime Minister

made two excellent speeches in which he stated that he had no pretensions to be a strategist, that he left that to his military advisers, that I, as C. in C. of the British Forces in France had full power to attack where and when I thought best. He did not wish to know the plan, or where and when any attack would take place. Briefly he wished the French Government to treat their Commanders on the same lines…

Was this all an act on the part of the P.M.? If so, Haig was taken in. He recorded in his diary on 6th May:

The P.M… seemed quite converted in his views about the British Army, was loud in its praises, and heartily congratulated me on the success of my operations! If we had been ‘held up’ like the French, he does not know that would have happened!

In strategic terms, this amounted to a subordination of the French to the British in the Western theatre.

Lloyd George’s apparent flexibility may have owed more to desperation than revelation. At the end of March, Balfour had warned him that if Britain failed to overcome the U-boat threat  “we must play for an early peace, as honourable as we can make it”Judged by the previous seven days, the U-boat threat was more menacing to Britain’s survival than ever. At least 123 Allied and neutral ships were sunk. SS Transylvania, a passenger ship now serving as a troop transport, was en route from Marseille to Alexandria packed with Allied troops to serve in Egypt when it was torpedoed by U-63 off Savona in the Gulf of Genoa. Twelve crew, 29 army officers and 373 soldiers were killed. Many bodies were recovered and were given an honourable funeral and buried in a special cemetery plot in Savona. Locals there were amazed at survivors all saying they would continue to serve as combatants.

In happier times: the Garden Room of the SS Transylvania

Quite apart from the traumatic loss of life, the spectre of starvation in Britain felt very real just now. Devonport’s scheme of voluntary rationing clearly had had little impact. As part of the psychological preparation for compulsory rationing, the King’s Proclamation on 2nd May was dedicated to leaving citizens in no doubt whatsoever as to the gravity of Britain’s food situation. The King urged his people to slash their consumption of bread by a quarter. This, given the dearth of affordable alternatives and the fact that bread enjoyed a unique importance in the British working class diet, was an immense ask. Nothing less, in fact, than a civilian call-to-arms.

British women queuing for food (but looking pretty cheerful about it), 1917

News of the Royal Proclamation certainly proved unnerving to some on the Front. Second-Lieutenant Edward Chapman of the 20th Royal Fusiliers was shortly to go on leave. In rather plaintive terms, he now wrote home:

Shall we have MEATLESS DAYS? If so I think I will stay out here! Today we have had new potatoes, and fresh cauliflower! And I have drunk red wine of the best. If I come home shall I have to dig potatoes?

There may have been more irony in the enquiry than words alone convey. Quite apart from monotony of food available, budgeting had become a nightmare for people of ordinary means. The Board of Trade had estimated in March that the cost of living for working class families had risen by 65% since the start of the war, but that the price of food alone had risen by 92%.

Nor was food the only headache for Britain’s rulers. Although Russia’s status as an ally was insisted upon in all official circles, the story on the ground was very different. French Ambassador Paleologue kept a careful note of the assorted processions and meetings which, since the fall of the Tsar, seemed to have become part of daily life in the capital. On 29th April, wounded soldiers paraded, who:

came in their thousands to protest against the pacifist theories of war. At their head was a military band, and the front file carried scarlet banners inscribed thus: ‘War for Liberty to our last breath!’ or: ‘Let not our glorious dead have died in vain!’ or: ‘Look at our wounds! They call for victory!’ or: ‘The pacifists are disgracing Russia. Down with Lenin!’

…This mournful troop seemed a living embodiment of all the horrors of war and to stand for all that human flesh can endure in the way of mutilation and torture. A religious silence greeted them; heads were bowed as they passed and eyes filled with tears…

Very dignified, no doubt. But hardly a rallying-cry. Paleologue described a different occasion a couple of days later when there was a massive celebration on 1st May, Workers’ Day, being marked in Russia for the first time. The Petrograd Soviet

had decided we shall nationally adopt the Western style [of dates] to fall in time with all the proletariats of all countries and illustrate the international solidarity of the working classes, in spite of the war and the illusions of the bourgeoisie.

May Day Parade, 1917,  in Vladivostok

The holiday was rich in symbolism –  not just for the so-called fraternity of workers, but because the temporary move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in the Empire allowed it to be celebrated along with other powers. Thousands gathered on the Champ-de-Mars, with music, flags, and speeches all made by

men of the people, whether wearing the workman’s jacket, the soldier’s greatcoat, the peasant’s sheepskin, the priest’s cassock or the Jew’s gabardine.

Most speeches called for social reform and the partition of land and were listened to with rapt attention. The war was mentioned as “an affliction which will soon end in a brotherly reconciliation”.

Not that reconciliation seemed likely to embrace the former Tsar. Zinoviev told the crowd:

Today is a holiday of socialism, comrades! You made a great feat, you realised a dream for which whole generations of revolutionaries gave their lives; you achieved political freedom, you locked up Nikolai the Bloody. On the day of May 1, we call on you, comrades, to fight for socialism, for the destruction of wage labour, for a full brotherhood.

The man himself seems not to have been unduly perturbed. From the Alexandra Palace, His Imperial Majesty recorded in his diary:

Abroad it’s the 1st May today, so our blockheads decided to celebrate with street processions, musical choirs and red flags…

For all the euphoria such events generated, they could not disguise the lawless condition of the country. Many workers were on strike and public services on Petrograd had all but broken down. The Soviet entreated them in the rhetoric of socialism:

Do not imitate the infamies of the old regime! Do not let your brothers die of hunger!

A fat lot of good that did. The reply came:

No  –  it is not our pleasure to do so. We are free!

The memoir of Nicholas II’s cousin, Maria Pavlovna recalled:

The streets were carelessly cleaned. Crowds of idle, dissolute soldiers and sailors wandered continually about, while the well-dressed people who owned carriages and cars hid away in their homes. Police were not to be seen. Things ran themselves, and very badly.

Even those of our servants who had been in our service for many years, sometimes even for generations, were influenced by the new currents. They began to present demands, form committees. Few remained faithful to the masters who had in all times taken care of them, pensioned them in their old age, nursed them when they had been sick, and sent their children to school. Petrograd frightened me.

The Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna: bedevilled by a servant problem

If the cities were bad, it was worse elsewhere. The credibility of officers in the army had virtually broken down –  officers were recruited overwhelmingly from the ranks of the elite, after all, and this was a bad time for toffs. Russia, as a military machine, had virtually ceased to function: over 1,200,000 deserters were now wandering around the country, taking over and re-routing trains. Civilian transport was becoming impossible.

As always, these larger narratives of war become more meaningful when seen through the prism of individual experience. The increasing ferocity and deadliness of aerial war was perceived acutely this week after it was reported that the great ace Leefe Robinson had been killed in action on 5th April, when his plane had been brought down near Mericourt by a member of von Richthofen’s Jasta 11 squadron.

Captain Leefe Robinson, VC

Robinson was a huge national star who, back in September 1916, had shot down the first airship to be destroyed over Britain. The feat had dazzled the public imagination and his subsequent celebrity made the authorities anxious to keep him safe. Robinson would have none of that, however, and had insisted on returning to the Front.

In fact, he was not dead but in a prisoner-of-war camp in Freiburg-im-Breisgau. From here he wrote to his parents:

We are really very comfortable here and altogether a very lazy crew. I have two other officers in my room, both of whom are receiving parcels so we feed awfully well, and start off with a regular English breakfast of porridge and bacon every morning and sausages when we can get them. I’ve got things going here a bit by now. We’ve formed a committee and I’ve started a library of English books — we’ve already got just over 100 books. We are also getting up a sports club, and hope to get a club room out of the German authorities which we’ll fit up as comfortably as we can.

So you see life is quite pleasant here although of course one gets awfully sick sometimes when you think that if things had been a little bit different we would still be on the other side of the wire doing something instead of slacking here out of it all as it were!

The tenor of this is all a bit too John Buchan to be quite believable. Perhaps it is better understood as the laudable efforts of a loving 21-year-old son to put on a brave face for his parents. Perhaps mindful of this, as well as of the censors, he opted not to mention that he was already involved in tunnelling –  the first of his many escape attempts.

With Robinson imprisoned, public devotion in Britain focused increasingly on another fighter ace, the 20- year-old, handsome and enigmatic Captain Albert Ball, DSO, MC. Since his return to the front on 7th April, he had already destroyed twelve enemy aircraft. Given the frequency and intensity of combat, the odds against his survival were never going to be good.

On 7th May, disaster struck. Flying north of Lens, he was among 17 British flyers who ran into a swarm of enemy aircraft, among which was Richthofen’s much-feared Jasta 11 squadron, which included Lothar von RichtofenDuring the dogfight which ensued, Ball’s aircraft disappeared from sight. He had captured the hearts as well as the imagination of many, and the news that he was missing in action created deep sorrow.

Captain Albert Ball, VC, MC, DSO

Lothar’s brother, meanwhile, the famous Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen, spent 2nd May at the Kaiser’s Headquarters in Bad Kreuznach. He wrote later that he

would never have dreamed that on my 25th birthday I would sit at Hindenburg’s right hand and be mentioned in a speech by the Field-Marshall.

By now he had amassed 52 kills to his name –  but the birthday would be his last.

A less grandiose drama, but still poignant, had played out on the Western Front a day earlier. On 1st May, Wilfred Owen’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Luxmoore, observed the poet-soldier behaving strangely. Owen received orders to report to the Battalion Medical Officer and, in consequence, wrote the following day to his mother from the 13th Casualty Clearing Station at Gailly:

Here again! The Doctor suddenly was moved to forbid me to go into action next time the battalion go, which will be in a day or two. I did not go sick or anything, but he is nervous about my nerves, and sent me down yesterday — labelled Neurasthenia. I still of course suffer from the headaches traceable to my concussion. This will mean that I shall stay here and miss the next Action Tour of Front Line; or even it may mean that I go further down & be employed for a more considerable time on Base Duty or something of the sort. I shall now try and make my French of some avail… having satisfied myself that, though in Action I bear a charmed life, and none of woman born can hurt me, as regards flesh and bone, yet my nerves have not come out without a scratch. Do not for a moment suppose I have had a ‘breakdown’. I am simply avoiding one.

Wilfred Owen

He seemed anxious to reassure her and belittle his own sufferings –  another good son.

The letters of Lieutenant Colonel Rowland Feilding of the Connaught Rangers are all characterised by depth and wisdom. Being an older man and writing to his wife seems to have allowed him to write with less restraint:

May 5  Another glorious summer day. After breakfast I walked round the Nuns’ garden [at Locre in Belgium]. It was the first time I had been there. In one corner is a shrine to the Blessed Virgin — a sort of miniature Grotto of Lourdes. In front of this is a flower-bed ,in the centre of which — planted over and surrounded by flowers — is the grave of a Canadian private soldier, beautifully cared for by the Nuns, with his name and number on a polished brass plate, fixed to a cross which marks the head. Should it be my fate not to survive this war, I cannot imagine a more pleasant resting-place, and, if I get the opportunity, I shall mention this to the Reverend Mother.

Locre during the First World War

His concerns seem to have been far more on his wife’s worries than his own:

May 6th  [Now in reserve at Butterfly Farm, near Locre.] I am afraid you are having a trying time, what with servant troubles and worries about food for the children, and I cannot express how much I feel for you.

The rigours of the Home Front were shared widely. Even Cynthia Asquith, the daughter-in-law of the former PM, was struggling to appear on time as a sitter for portrait painters:

May 7th  Had the utmost difficulty in getting on to my bus at nine o’clock to go to McEvoy. I fought like a beast, but others fought more successfully and I failed to get on three consecutive ones. Arrived late at the studio…

The artist had his own preoccupations, it appeared:

McEvoy seemed rather overtired and nervy. He has been called up for re-examination before a medical board. He implied that he would be glad to fight, but as there was no chance of that he hoped he would be left to paint in peace, rather than put in an office.

Artist’s model: Lady Cynthia Asquith

215 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. generic albuterol inhaler
  2. cipro generic
  3. cheap viagra online
  4. naltrexone weight loss
  5. chloroquine tablets price
  6. viagra samples
  7. hydroxychloroquine over the counter uk
  8. viagra online us
  9. cialis dosage
  10. cheapest 100mg viagra delivered overnight
  11. generic latisse bimatoprost 0.03% 3ml
  12. how long does cialis last
  13. viagra 32
  14. cheapest 50mg generic viagra
  15. buy chloroquine phosphate
  16. cialis ed
  17. is there a generic for cialis
  18. generic cialis tadalafil
  19. order viagra online
  20. viagra prices
  21. viagra buy
  22. viagra price
  23. viagra generic
  24. buy viagra without script
  25. how much is cialis with insurance
  26. cheap viagra on linbe
  27. buy cialis from canada
  28. cialis from canada
  29. viagra northern ireland
  30. buy viagra in shanghai
  31. online doctor prescription for viagra
  32. viagra generic online
  33. ingredients in cialis
  34. roman viagra
  35. where to buy viagra in bali
  36. buy viagra brand
  37. viagra order form
  38. viagra stock
  39. use of cialis
  40. viagra and drinking
  41. generic viagra from canada
  42. cialis buy online pharmacy
  43. 20 mg cialis reviews
  44. can you buy viagra online
  45. mandy flores gives son viagra
  46. gnc cialis substitute
  47. viagra single packs commercial actress
  48. where to buy viagra cheap in jax fl
  49. amoxicillin 875 mg side effects
  50. azithromycin and ibuprofen
  51. celecoxib mechanisms of action
  52. buy viagra sample internet pharmacy
  53. cephalexin and muscle cramping
  54. is cymbalta
  55. does amoxicillin cause yeast infection
  56. cialis effectiveness
  57. azithromycin tablet
  58. what does celebrex treat
  59. keflex antibiotic for staph infection
  60. drugs similar to cymbalta
  61. viagra articles
  62. viagra order
  63. viagra roman
  64. cost of cialis
  65. buy viagra on line
  66. cialis information
  67. viagra gel
  68. hims viagra
  69. viagra accident
  70. viagra alternative
  71. viagra for sale
  72. sildenafil results
  73. homemade viagra
  74. generic viagra reviews
  75. cialis 30 day sample
  76. 100 mg viagra
  77. sildenafil tablets
  78. cialis ingredients
  79. viagra fuck
  80. viagra connect
  81. cialis 100 mg strength
  82. recreational viagra use
  83. correct dosage of viagra
  84. viagra onset and duration
  85. cialis coupon card
  86. buyinc generic cialis with discover card
  87. does viagra cause angina
  88. compare cialis and viagra
  89. viagra and stomach pain
  90. cialis drug commercials
  91. does cvs sell cialis over the counter
  92. generic cialis 60 mg
  93. y sildenafil online australia
  94. furosemide 100 mg tablets
  95. cialis over counter at walmart
  96. free hiv dating online
  97. how much is a cialis pill
  98. get cialis online
  99. cheap cialis melbourne
  100. cialis sale canada
  101. top rated online casino
  102. viagra pill 100
  103. meritking
  104. elexusbet
  105. eurocasino
  106. madridbet
  107. meritroyalbet
  108. eurocasino
  109. eurocasino
  110. meritroyalbet
  111. best website to order cialis
  112. sildenafil citrate tablets 50 mg
  113. meritroyalbet
  114. meritking
  115. madridbet
  116. ivermectin 9 mg tablet
  117. trcasino
  118. elexusbet
  119. ivermectin 3mg pill
  120. cialis bula
  121. otc generic viagra
  122. viagra alternative
  123. horse paste ivermectin
  124. trcasino
  125. buy ivermectin cream for humans
  126. trcasino
  127. how much is a ventolin
  128. tombala siteleri
  129. tombala siteleri
  130. tombala siteleri
  131. imask protocol
  132. flllc alliance
  133. meritroyalbet
  134. flccc protocol
  135. stromectol how much it cost
  136. buy ivermectin canada
  137. buy ivermectin nz
  138. ivermectin drug
  139. buy ivermectin for humans australia
  140. ivermectin cost in usa
  141. how much does ivermectin cost
  142. ivermectin kaufen
  143. ivermectin tablets for humans
  144. purchase ivermectin
  145. ivermectin price
  146. ivermectin buy
  147. ignition casino update
  148. how to get ivermectin
  149. order prednisone 5mg
  150. generique cialis
  151. what is tadalafil
  152. meritroyalbet
  153. provigil 100 mg cost
  154. ivermectin 3mg tablets
  155. order real viagra line
  156. cost of ivermectin medicine
  157. cheap cialis india
  158. sildenafil for pah
  159. ivermectin 0.5%
  160. can i buy cialis without a prescription
  161. levitra doses
  162. how to purchase sildenafil pills
  163. baymavi
  164. order cialis without a prescription
  165. baymavi
  166. cialis without prescription
  167. price of generic cialis in mexico
  168. stromectol usa
  169. sildenafil citrate for sale
  170. sildenafil pills for men
  171. cialis professional
  172. tadalafil online
  173. cialis generic in usa
  174. para que es prednisone 20mg
  175. tombala siteleri
  176. prednisone 20mg sciatique
  177. molnupiravir news
  178. buy tadalafil
  179. order cialis online
  180. meritroyalbet
  181. ivermectin ken
  182. prednisone side effects in men
  183. where to order generic viagra
  184. tadalafil liquid
  185. casino games online for money
  186. buy viagra online
  187. ivermectin 6mg tablet for lice
  188. stromectol cost
  189. ivermectin for humans dosage
  190. no deposit win real cash
  191. cialis price walmart
  192. female viagra
  193. tadalafil otc
  194. dosage for ivermectin
  195. stromectol 0.5 mg
  196. what is ivermectin used for humans
  197. ivermectin 12 mg for sale
  198. nih ivermectin
  199. ivermectin 12mg
  200. meritroyalbet
  201. meritking
  202. meritking
  203. get ivermectin
  204. peptide tadalafil
  205. eurocasino
  206. eurocasino
  207. madridbet
  208. lucky land
  209. ivermectin 3mg tablets
  210. ivermectin for humans cvs
  211. ivermectin 400 mg
  212. meritroyalbet
  213. eurocasino
  214. meritroyalbet giriş
  215. tadalafil cvs

Comments are closed.