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Western Front

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1st May 1915: William Milton, foreman of Lyons Hall farm, dose not approve of all the recruiting posters on tree trunks and walls. “If the government want more men let them take idlers not workmen. Unless the war is over before August there will not be enough men for the harvest”. The men say ‘we will go when we like, or when we are ordered. ‘ Conscription being just, would be welcome.

9th May 1915: The annoyance of the farm-labourers with the recruitment campaign is show by the fact that every recruitment poster has been torn down. This is an unofficial document and is a personal account of what farmers in Essex felt about the pressure put on men to join the armed forces. It was written in the diary of an Essex Clergyman, the reverend Andrew Clark. It tells us that the farmers were none to happy about the government taking all the workmen and believed that the country would soon be in ruin if the war didn’t end by August. This source gives us a rare insight of what people working in agriculture at the time thought would happen if most of the working men went off to fight in the war.

This source is very reliable because it was written in a dairy, which was not begin written for the public and so is censored by the government. Although it is a reliable source it only tells us of what farmers in this particular part of the country felt like and dose not tell me what people felt like in other parts of the country. In this essay I will try to include many of my views and opinions to answer the question Did Poems, Paintings, songs, stories, and Films about the western Front give a more accurate picture of soldiers’ experiences than official accounts?

I will try and back up my views and opinions with relevant sources. Using official and unofficial accounts and sources I will try and argue for both side of the argument and then answer the above question by writing my conclusion. The western front was formed when Germany tried to invade France quickly by bypassing the French defences in the border between France and Germany, by moving the German army through Belgium. Then the German army would move to the east and attack the Russians before they were ready to attack and help the French.

This was the Schlieffen Plan, but it failed because Belgium refused to let the German army march though to France so the Germans had to fight them. They also had to fight the British because Belgium had sign a treaty with them saying that Britain would protect it to keep it neutral. The Russians were also ready for war faster then anyone predicted and thousands of troops had to the east to deal with them. Trenches were dug to stop the enemy advancing further. By 1914 trench lines stretched all the way from the Belgian coast down to Switzerland.

The opposing forces had reached a stalemate; this was the western front. Official account are more bias the government tries to keep morale at home high so people would still be enthusiastic about the war. News was censored so news about the war was often short and factual but only every told the reader or listener the successes and not the defeats of the war in Europe. The following source is a news paper article written in the Daily Record on 28th April 1915 this is a classic example of what censored news was like at the time. The headline reads; Enemy compelled to cease fighting. 600 Germans slain at one point.

Fighting north and north-east of Ypres continued all yesterday. Our operations, in conjunction with the French, definitely stopped the German attack, and it has not since been renewed. Since yesterday there has been no German west of the canal except at Steenstraate, where they have established a small bridge head. In resisting our counter-attacks the Germans have again made use of Chlorine gas The article is a primary source only reflects on how well the allies are doing it only tells of the German loses and does not got in to any detail at all about the fighting condition of the western front.

The news article has been censored and so does not give any opinions the writer may have and is entirely factual. Not all-official sources however are in writing while most are written facts some are statistics, which don’t tell what soldiers accurately experience. The government until the end of the war did not publish statistics like death rates. Official sources also include poster not just for recruitment but propaganda poster to make people more anti-German, cartoon were also used as propaganda. An example of this is a Punch Cartoon named ‘Cannon Fodder’ and after, this was published in 25th April 1917.

It shows a picture of the German Kaiser Wilhlem II tell one of his solider “Don’t forget Teat your Kaiser will find a use for you-Alive or dead”. There is a caption at the bottom explaining how the dead bodies of German solider and boiled and chemically treated to make lubricant oils and Pigs food. This source make people feel that the Germans were animals to do this to there dead and make this hate them even more. This source however tells me what people opinions were at the time because many people believed in the government propaganda.

This source is an opinion and not fact and is bias towards the Germans but does not give any information about what conditions were like in the western front. Official document sent by solider fighting in the front included postcards and the Green envelope, which had a ‘Honour clause’. The Service postcard had an outline which the soldiers would just delete were appropriate. The Green envelope had a certificate on it, which the soldiers would sign before posting their letters. The certificate says that the writer of the letter will not enclose any information about the war.

This was because of spies and also morale at home would be very bad if people knew what conditions the front line was. This official document again tells me know detail of what the conditions were like in the western front but it does show that the Government was fearful of spies. The next sources is an extract from the Wipers Times this extract makes the western front sound like a holiday came which of course it was not. There is one piece from the extract which reads ‘Hotel Des Ramparts, Wipers’ Excellent view, close to railway station, lit throughout by electricity.

The electric lights were probably the flashes from the artillery Guns and the shell explosions. This was publication was intended to make light of the situation the soldiers were in this is a classic example of the British sense of humour, Sarcasm. This would of course boost the morale of the soldiers. This source is useful in telling us what the conditions were like for the solider in the western front however it is not in that much detail. Also it might not be all that reliable as you have to decipher the true meaning of the word in the wiper times.

Unofficial sources tend to show more of what the solider felt in the western front and are usually less (not by much) factual and more emotional. This next source is a primary source written in the western front by a soldier called Siegfried Sasson. It is a poem about how a young man he knew who use to be full of life shot him self because of the horrors he saw in the western front; I knew a simple solider boy, Who grinned at life in empty joy, Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, And whistled early with the lark. In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

With crumps and lice and lack of rum, He put a bullet through his brain, No one spoke to him again. You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye, Who cheer when soldier lads march by, Sneak home and pray you’ll never know, The hell where youth and laughter go. This give us an insight in to what the soldiers felt it tells us that the conditions were so bad that people would kill them selves to get a way from it. This is first hand information because in was written by a soldier (officer) so it is very useful. However the poem uses rhyme and word had to be changed to make it rhyme.

Also the writer was anti-war and so it quiet bias so is not that reliable. Unofficial sources tended to be poem as soldiers could not write about their experiences in letter so the wrote poems instead. Other secondary sources include films about the western front like the movie ‘All quiet on the western front’. This is a very factual movie, which tell us in great detail about a boy who joins the army with his friends and the horrible experiences they encounter. This is a very useful source, which tells us in great detail about the condition on the western front and what they felt like emotionally.

This is a reliable source as the information for this film had to be researched thoroughly but it is a movie after all and has to be dramatised for the audience. Other secondary unofficial accounts of the western front include the comedy Black Adder. This source is not that useful but does show what the conditions were like. It shows social class like the rich aristocrats sons who went to public schools and are very patriotic but could get out of fidgeting because of their family background. It also shows recruits attitudes and why they joined for example they thought it would be a great adventure.

It also touches on the Pal battalions were men folk from one town were out in the same battalion and all die. They also showed what the shortages the soldiers had to deal with like coffee. But all this is over exaggerated to make it funny and so is not reliable. Also in the western front shell were always going off but in Black adder there weren’t any noise at all. Unofficial primary sources are mostly in more detail about what conditions were like but might only concentrate on one topic. This next source is a classic example.

This source is an account of what the trenches were like and are in soldier’s memoirs: Night attacks were lit by star shells, which burst low in the sky to light up the enemy lines. Sometimes attacks were made after bombardment of enemy positions by the guns. We hear the shells scream over head and burst on the enemy positions. Shrapnel and metal fragments flew in all directions. Some shells hit the ground and become death traps when full of water. This source is useful in telling us what the dangers the soldiers in the western front had to face.

It talks of the night attacks and what their tactics were. What they would do is to attack the enemy positions with a bombardment of shells then release star shell so the could see where the enemy were. It tells us of one of the major dangers soldier faces when attacking at night, the shell holes flooding with water, which would drown the soldiers, as they were heavy with all the equipment. This source tells us in detail what fighting conditions were like but has no information on what their occupation were like.

This is however a reliable sources, as it is a written first had account. Official and unofficial sources differ great while official are factual they only tell us what the government what people to hear as all media at the time was censored. Unofficial sources are more on soldier’s experiences and while are not propaganda are some time biases. I have in turn concluded that unofficial accounts are much better at painting a picture of what the hell on earth called the western front was really like.

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