Did all of Lord Kitchener’s Volunteer army march to war with Zest and Idealism in the first place
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In 1914, men “flocked to the colours”. Many wanted to impress sweethearts or wives, hundreds wanted to have a “crack at the Kaiser” and “fight back the Hun” like the crusaders centuries before them. Others wanted to fight for and protect their King and country and some wanted to save the British Empire, in which they fully believed. But still there were those men who had been pressurised and even forced to fight. In Trafalgar Square, and outside cinemas and theatres women handed out white feathers to men, not in uniform and at home, there was often a lot of pressure from children parents and even spouses to fight. These men didn’t go to war with zest and idealism.
Source A is made up mostly of opinion; “there are those who see the Somme…as an event so terrible that it killed the breezy, crusading spirit of 1914-15.”
In fact it finishes by saying that the 9th Yorks and Lancasters regiment “lost 423 men in its first battle!” We know that this wasn’t an isolated event, all along the Somme line; there were huge casualty lists. Source F is an official casualty list and it shows nearly 60,000 men died on the first day! Source A would certainly help to back up Taylor’s statement.
Source B, is the Cartoon portraying the Generals in charge of the Somme as fat, un-feeling men. If the cartoon is true, the ordinary soldier would have his zest and idealism snatched away, punctured because he wouldn’t be able to trust his own leaders. The General-ship was inept.
In Source C, British soldiers are standing, listening to a General, talking about the next day, the 1st July. They cheer him but their cheers are quelled by the Military Police in the area. They quickly shout out orders and say how, “that any man shirking his duty would be shot.” The men’s reaction to the treat of being shot by the MP’s betrays the fact that they wanted to be there. They had joined up for this. This showed the presence of Zest and Idealism. However from the other sources describing the following day, we know that these “great expectations” would soon be squashed.
In the second part of the Source the MPs threaten the men as we’ve heard. This would have been contributory to the slow puncture of zest. We are told that after the strong reprimand, the group “was split between excitement and the wanting to be home with their mothers.”
Source D was written by a German soldier and is about his experience of the first day of the battle of the Somme, behind a machine-gun. It tells of what happened when the bombardment lifted from the German front line to their reserve lines.
The source touches on the British confidence, or rather, Rawlingson’s confidence in his weeklong bombardment of the German lines. “They came on at a steady pace…as though expecting to find nothing alive in our trenches.”
Usually there is a draw back to this kind of source because it is an eyewitness account and the eyewitness can only comment on what is happening around him. However, this source seems reliable because we get the same kind of accounts up and down the lines, I.e. “The 1st day of the Somme” by Martin Middlebrook. The only places that the British and French didn’t have this result was at Montaubon and Mametz, where the French and the Surrey Regiment did break through, only to fall back due to the fact that the cavalry didn’t come to push through. However, on the whole, everywhere else, all regiments failed their objectives and the British Zest and idealism was crushed by such stiff German resistance.
Source F shows the British losses on the first day of the Battle, 1st July 1916. It states that 57,970 men were lost on that day and we usually round that figure up to 60000. These are official British Army figures and therefore, we have no reason to question them.
With such a grotesque number of casualties, how could zest and idealism still exist in the British lines?
Lloyd George is the author of source G. At the time, George was the minister for munitions at the Somme. When he wrote the source, he was fighting for appeasement, and pacifism. His memories of which, source G is an extract, could easily be coloured with hindsight.
Lloyd George could feel responsible for the huge number of casualties because his shells, of which many were duds, may have helped contribute to the first day’s failure. In this self-blame, he could have a motive to deflect blame onto Haig and/or Rawlingson. He says, “We failed to achieve our objective of a breakthrough.” This is his way of blaming those in command. This quote is fact. With this on their minds how could the average British soldier; keep hold of his zest and idealism?
We can also use source H, to back up A.J.P. Taylor’s opinion that Zest and Idealism perished on the Somme as well.
In this source, Haig is trying to highlight the successes of the war. Therefore it is positive. “We have forced the Germans out of strong defensive positions.”
However, Haig had a motive to being biased. He had to try and prove to the British Government that the battle of the Somme was a success to keep his job. Therefore we question the reliability of this source.
In his report, Haig ignores his battle plan and sidesteps to the lesser of the battle’s achievements. And this also contradicts source G. “It was supposed to be a war winning battle.” However again, like in source G, we wonder how the British soldier could still have zest and idealism when he knows that in a battle where the British lost more men than any other combat, the battle’s orders weren’t even accomplished.
On the other hand, source E shows that Taylor’s opinion on the loss of zest and idealism could be false.
An extract from the diary of an important member of parliament, source E describes a visit to the Somme by Sir Maurice Hankey. (Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence and of the War Council) Because of his position Hankey would have had access to a lot of private information, but he still didn’t have all of it, even though he should have.
Hankey, as a visitor to the Somme, would have Haig as his guide. Haig would talk about his optimism and confidence, which we know as overconfidence.
In the Extract, Hankey writes that the many German prisoners were “Intelligent, men with good physiques and high moral.” However we have to remember that they are still prisoners. If the British are capturing such fit and healthy men, then why should their zest and idealism leak? The 9th of September, about which the diary entry describes, was also the date of the introduction of the tank, and this was an added fully of hope for the British.
Finally, source ‘I’ disagrees with Taylor’s opinion. Written by General Ludendorff (the commander of the Eastern Front at the time of the battle of the Somme) in August 1916, it describes the state of the German army on the Western Front (which Ludendorff took command of after the Somme.)
Source ‘I’ is an extract from a book by Ludendorff, which was printed extremely quickly to stop the author from being blamed for the failure of the war. He talks of the British pushing the German lines back, where in fact the German’s retreated by their own free-will to get into a more easily defended position. The “Hindenbourg Line.” He says how his army was “completely exhausted.” And this would help him with the German public, because it shows that even though the German army was near defeat, he, General Ludendorff managed to carry the war on for two more years.
“When the Battle of the Somme began the Entente had a tremendous superiority, both on land and in the air. The Entente troops had worked their way further and further into the German lines. We had heavy losses in men and material. As a result of the Somme fighting we were completely exhausted on the Western Front. If the war lasted, our defeat seemed inevitable.”
If this extract is true, why on earth would the British army loose its zest and idealism?
The weight of evidence in these sources shows that the British zest and idealism did perish on the Somme. However, to make a more valid decision, I would have liked: a key British eyewitness, newspapers from the time, the original battle plans, and photographs. Also, source F is one-sided and therefore I would also want the German casualty figures.
With these sources, I could make a more valid judgement.
However I still agree with Taylor’s statement because, only seven and a half miles was gained at the deepest point in the line with huge casualties. The British only managed to push the Germans into a more defendable position in the Hindenburg Line, and the bombardment on which so much rested, was a failure.