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Ghazala

The Great War was a grim necessity

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Ghazala

An interesting article by Gary Sheffield in my paper last Monday....

 

The Great War was neither futile nor glorious but a grim necessity

 

We must remember that the majority of Britons thought the First World War was worth fighting

 

August 8, 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War. At 4.20am Australian, British, Canadian and French infantry, supported by artillery of awesome power, and by tanks, aircraft and cavalry, attacked German defences near the French city of Amiens. By nightfall the Allies had advanced eight miles. By the standards of trench warfare, with gains measured in yards, this advance was remarkable. Erich Ludendorff, de facto German commander-in-chief, later called August 8, 1918 “the black day of the German army in the history of the war”.

 

Three weeks earlier, a powerful French-led counteroffensive (the Second Battle of the Marne) had halted a major German attack. Having decisively seized the initiative, at Amiens the Allies exercised it to devastating effect. The German army never recovered from the blow it received on August 8. From then until November 11, 1918 Germany was faced with a perfect storm. Relentless Allied attacks on the battlefields of France and Flanders inflicted defeat after defeat on the German army and drove it backwards. In the process German military morale was badly damaged, from Ludendorff’s down to the lowliest infantryman. Away from the Western Front, Germany’s allies surrendered or simply disintegrated. The German home front progressively collapsed in the face of the British naval blockade, which was starving the population, and the ineptitude of German authorities in distributing what food was available. By the second week of November German soldiers were surrendering in droves and revolution had broken out in German cities. Berlin decided to capitulate before things deteriorated any further.

 

The Battle of Amiens was a crucial stepping stone to victory. On the day after the Armistice was signed, a Canadian soldier wrote: “How much has happened since on the morning of August 8th we were awakened out of our doze . . . [by] the big guns . . . How little we thought that in less than four months the victory would be won’.

 

Last Wednesday I was fortunate to attend the centenary commemoration at Amiens Cathedral. The ceremony, attended by Prince William and Theresa May, as well as representatives from Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the US, was impressive and moving, a triumph for all concerned. Very different but in its own way equally impressive was an event in which an international group of students on a battlefield tour run by UCL’s Institute of Education presented their research on the battle. In one crucial respect these events were different from the Somme and Passchendaele commemorations in 2016 and 2017. Those tapped deep into the British national psyche. By contrast, most of the British public had probably never heard of the Battle of Amiens until last week.

 

This ignorance is rooted in the popular view of the First World War as a futile, senseless disaster. Crudely put, Sassoon’s poems and Blackadder have had more influence than any history book. This was reflected in 2012, when David Cameron announced the list of major events to be commemorated. This omitted Amiens, or any of the Allied victories of 1918. A number of military historians and organisations, such as the Western Front Association, lobbied to put this right. To his great credit, the PM’s representative for the First World War commemorations, Andrew Murrison MP, listened to us and changed his mind.

 

To my mind, the greatest weakness of the commemorations has been the failure to portray the war as contemporaries saw it. Coming from a very different society, we struggle to grasp why British men and women of 100 years ago were prepared to endure sacrifice on a such a vast scale. Yet the historical record is clear. In Britain, the vast majority of people thought the war was worth fighting, to defend their homes and the Empire against a dangerous enemy. The country in 1914 was a democracy, albeit an incomplete one, governed on liberal principles. For such a state to wage a total war, involving not just the armed forces but the whole of society, the consent of the masses was essential. By-and-large, in First World War Britain that consent was given.

Today it is easy to say that our ancestors were wrong, that the vast loss of life was simply not worth the issues at stake. This is to use hindsight. Belgian refugees reaching Britain with terrible stories of the behaviour of the Germans in their homeland reinforced determination to fight on. German shelling of English coastal towns, initiation of chemical warfare, Zeppelin raids on London — all these stoked hatred and fear of a ruthless enemy. In 1918, the harsh peace terms imposed by Germany on the Russian Bolshevik regime left little doubt as to the fate of Britain should it be defeated. After Amiens, British soldiers were greeted by French and Belgian civilians as liberators from four years of harsh occupation — a fact largely forgotten by modern Britons.

 

The Amiens ceremony reflected something of these wartime attitudes, perhaps for the first time since the commemorations began in 2014. It testified to the achievement of the Allied armies and nations in 1918. The appalling cost in human life was not downplayed, but unlike earlier events it was not blanketed in an aura of “futility”. Nor was there even a hint of triumphalism. The ceremony struck exactly the right note. Let’s hope that the same will be true of the commemoration of the Armistice on November 11th.

 

Gary Sheffield is professor of war studies at the University of Wolverhampton

 

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charlie962

Thanks. Strikes the right note as he said did the ceremony. But it wont change the view of 'modern Britons'

 

Charlie.

 

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2ndCMR

There were innumerable "glorious" incidents in the war, if by "glorious" one means examples of great bravery or self-sacrifice, humanity, etc.  One would think that by this point we would have got over the adolescent pretence that there were not, as much as over the equivalent pretence that the war was nothing but.

 

German reunification and Prussian dominance of that state had made the war inevitable, the only question was would Britain and the Empire "sit it out" as was confidently expected in Berlin in 1914 and again in 1939?

 

Obviously she could not do so without coming under the gradual domination of Germany, anymore than she could afford to let Napoleon dominate Europe, before he like Germany later moved on to the rest of the world, including of course the likely invasion of the British Isles.

 

Of course the failure to mobilize the nation in rebuilding and recovering from the human and financial losses of the wars is ultimately a symptom of the national psychology.  The more nationalistic and aggressive national psychologies such as Germany and Japan have continued their drive for dominance via economic means, a threat which is insufficiently apparent to the mass of the population to motivate them, or apparently their sluggardly leaders, in taking effective counter-measures.

 

But plainly, both Germany and Japan are also doomed biologically due to a failure to reproduce in adequate numbers and their "victory" is therefore doubly Pyhrric.  But for the losses of the world wars, European civilization would have gone from strength to strength and the world would look utterly different today.

 

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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phil andrade

Goodness gracious me !

 

That is controversial stuff !

 

I must pour myself another glass of Malbec...

 

Phil

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Kimberley John Lindsay

Dear 2nd CMR,

Hindsight is easy...

Kindest regards,

Kim.

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Terry_Reeves
On 18/08/2018 at 08:44, 2ndCMR said:

 

German reunification and Prussian dominance of that state had made the war inevitable,

 

 

 

 

There was nothing "inevitable" about the war at all as far as Britain was concerned.  Britain had been rather more concerned with France as the Fashoda incident in 1898 showed.   Indeed, up to the time of  the July crisis relations between Germany and Britain had been good , despite some earlier  tensions such as the German challenge to Britain's naval superiority.  Many Britons, particularly from the middling classes, admired German culture and scientific achievements to the point where many sent their sons to Germany to study for masters degrees and doctorates. Indeed,  it is not difficult to find those from the same middling  classes giving their sons German middle names. The Kaiser received an honorary doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1909 which was initially hung in the Ashmolian museum before being re-hung in the Examination School. It was removed from display just after the outbreak of war and consigned to a cellar until 1957 when it was re-hung in 1957 in South Examination School.

 

 "Inevitable"   is a word used only in hindsight.

 

TR

 

 

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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Medaler
14 hours ago, Terry_Reeves said:

 

 "Inevitable"   is a word used only in hindsight.

 

Not sure that is quite right. There was a point where it became inevitable otherwise it would not have happened. The "trick" is deciding where that point was in the chain of events that led up to it, and determining that is not at all easy. Traditionally the direct causes have been attributed to the assassination of an Austrian Archduke, but there is a lot of background as to why that became a trigger point. If we are not careful we end up with the "butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon" school of thought.

 

When I was younger (much younger!) it was quite fashionable to use a blanket description of the causes of WW1 (along with many other things) being all about "maintaining the balance of power". It seems to be a phrase that has fallen out of favour, and maybe I'm behind the times, but it still makes sense to me.

 

Inevitable? - I think it probably was, with several European nations either seeking to maintain or extend their spheres of influence. Perhaps the least inevitable bit was who was going to end up in each alliance when push came to shove. Somehow the fate of the Austrian Archduke seemed to polarise things enough for the ducks to line up in a row.

 

But then again, what do I know?

 

Mike

Edited by Medaler

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yperman

I have been asked to give five short (30min) lectures/lessons on the Great War  to an Academy (Comp school in old money) Military History club in the lead up to Armistice Day. I will be including your comments - any more ideas out there?

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Gunga Din

The article states:

 

"To my mind, the greatest weakness of the commemorations has been the failure to portray the war as contemporaries saw it. Coming from a very different society, we struggle to grasp why British men and women of 100 years ago were prepared to endure sacrifice on a such a vast scale. Yet the historical record is clear. In Britain, the vast majority of people thought the war was worth fighting, to defend their homes and the Empire against a dangerous enemy. The country in 1914 was a democracy, albeit an incomplete one, governed on liberal principles. For such a state to wage a total war, involving not just the armed forces but the whole of society, the consent of the masses was essential. By-and-large, in First World War Britain that consent was given."

 

My underlining.

 

If the 'vast majority of people thought the war was worth fighting' why did the UK have to resort to conscription in early 1916? The volunteers of 1914-15 barely exceeded the number of conscripts 1916-1918, which might indicate that close to half the male population of military age needed to be forced to serve by emergency legal measures in the shape of the Military Services Act. A number of politicians with a ringside seat had predicted this prior to the War if Hansard is any indication. This reality seems quite distant from the alleged 'vast majority'.  If the men exempted conscription due to being in reserved occupations are included, the volunteer v conscripts+exemptions would tilt heavily in the favour of the latter combined group. 

 

After the initial surge in voluntary recruiting in response to Kitchener's call, the enthusiasm to support the war by enlisting rather waned as the mass casualties started to change attitudes. Despite having control over the media, it was impossible for the Govt to suppress the hard reality of mass casualties. The Govt had to change the parameters for recruiting (age, physical measurements) in order to increase the numbers liable under the various amendments to the Military Services Act as well as use the risk of incarceration for unconditionalist conscientious objectors - a public deterrent for those dragging their heels. The fate of the Richmond Sixteen is worth reading. Sentenced to death pour encourager les autres but eventually reprieved to serve 10 years penal servitude. Some deterrent and widely publicised at the time. Released in 1919. It still caused local controversy 100 years later.

 

In a Society where the 'free press' was coerced by the Govt as early as Sep 1914 into disseminating the Governments version of events, it would be difficult for the man on the Clapham omnibus to avoid the Govt propaganda machine. It is questionable whether mass public opinion could be accurately measured at the time. For that matter it seems unlikely they had access to the relevant information. The Govt had a virtual monopoly on the control of information (and mis-information) in the public domain. 

 

As for consent, if 40% of men and 100% of women did not have the vote (70% of the total adult population) in the 'democracy' of 1914-1918, it is difficult to argue that there was 'consent', particularly when there was no vote on whether to support the war, even for the 30% of the population eligible to vote.. Silence is not consent.  The war changed this of course, with the Representation of the People Act 1918 which more than doubled the number of men eligible to vote and votes for some 40% of women (the remaining women had to wait another decade of course). Eligible voters could not exercise their new rights until Dec 1918, a month after the Armistice. How a society 'consents' (or does not give their consent) in 1914-1918 when the Govt is militarising on an unprecedented scale with emergency powers, is an interesting argument. 

 

I would agree with most of Prof Sheffield's arguments but I would be interested in the evidence that the 'vast majority of people' thought the war worth fighting. Had the Military Services Act not been introduced, one can only speculate what might have happened. We can be sure of one thing: the UK Govt thought it was necessary to force people to enlist.. 

 

GD

 

As an aside I suspect less than one in a thousand people even knew the PM had a Representative for the First World War Commemoration (sic). 

 

Edited by Gunga Din

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PhilB

It should not be imagined that all the men who volunteered did so out of a high sense of duty, abandoning a comfortable lifestyle. Many did so because military life looked a soft option compared to the work they had and, based on Boer War experience, it wouldn`t be too long or too dangerous.

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Terry_Reeves

I agree with Gunga Din  who has laid out some of the weaknesses in the argument. I would also add that there was no universal enthusiasm for the war, even in 1914. On the 2nd of August an estimated 100,000 people held an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar, many of them socialists, a preponderance of whom were trade unionists but also included pacifists.

 

Just out of interest, Gary Sheffield is a member of this forum, joining a few months ago.

 

TR

 

 

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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sassenach

I'm not sure that a demonstration in London by "an estimated 100,000" socialists, trade unionists and pacifists automatically mirrors the general national mood.

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Moonraker
5 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

... If the 'vast majority of people thought the war was worth fighting' why did the UK have to resort to conscription in early 1916?

Thinking and doing are quite different things. When C W Hughes was leading marches to boots recruitment to the 7th Wiltshire in the first months of the war, he thought: "What a waste of time was all this recruiting and meetings. The meetings were usually attended by women and old men and addressed by more old men who by heroic phrases and tales of the glory of war sought to gain recruits. I think everyone not of military age was anxious that all who could should serve."

 

Moonraker

 

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Gunga Din
3 hours ago, Moonraker said:

Thinking and doing are quite different things. When C W Hughes was leading marches to boots recruitment to the 7th Wiltshire in the first months of the war, he thought: "What a waste of time was all this recruiting and meetings. The meetings were usually attended by women and old men and addressed by more old men who by heroic phrases and tales of the glory of war sought to gain recruits. I think everyone not of military age was anxious that all who could should serve."

 

Moonraker

 

 

 

It seems the Government of 1914-15 would agree: it perfectly understood the reality at the time: any enthusiasm for the war effort (from mid 1915 onward) was not translating into enthusiasm to serve and die for one's country. There is considerable War Office correspondence* on shortfalls in recruiting in the National Archives...which is why I question the Professor's claim that the 'vast majority thought it worth fighting'.My underlining.

 

Maurice Hankey had a ringside seat as Secretary to the Cabinet and various other Committees. The reality of the failing recruiting efforts under the Derby Scheme hit hard in early 1916. In his "Supreme Command 1914-1918" Vol II Chapter XLV "National Military Service" he writes:

 

"[page 471] Probably it was not generally realized by the War Committee that the decision of December 28th to prepare for a great offensive in France, was bringing us straight into a war of attrition (guerre d'usure). It was recognized however that a big offensive must entail very heavy casualties and that consideration must be given to the means by which the necessary recruits were to be obtained. The raising of this problem at once produced a political crisis. The question of compulsory military service had already been smouldering for some time and to some extent the fumes had been poisoning the atmosphere in which the Supreme Command worked. As Bonar Law remarked to me one day, when I had shown him some draft conclusions about East Africa: "We have bigger things than East Africa to quarrel about" In January the controversy burst suddenly into full flame.

 

On the day (December 28th) on which the policy of 1916 was determined the Cabinet decided on a modest installment of compulsory service, limited to men of military age who had not attested under the Derby scheme and who could not give a satisfactory reason for exemption. This at once precipitated a crisis and certain members of the cabinet seemed likely to resign. Obviously this was most undesireable. It might well have caused a split in the nation have weakened the will to win and must have encouraged the enemy........it was fairly clear that, if an agreement [could not be achieved, many of the Liberal members of cabinet would resign......

 

[page 475]...The manpower crisis, however though temporarily allayed was by no means at an end.The efforts of the Cabinet Committee had resulted in authority being given to the Army Council to aim for a policy of maintaining sixty-two divisions in the filed abroad by the end of June [1916] with three months' reserves as well as five complete Divisions without reserves for home defence. It had always been doubtful however whether even if the necessary recruits were forthcoming the recruiting machine could obtain the men sufficiently rapidly. As this point as well as other points were obscure the Committee arranged to meet again in April to review the whole recruiting situation.

 

This fresh review which occupied the first half of April led to an even sharper crisis in the cabinet and in parliament. As had been feared the military recruiting machine had not been able to produce the number of men that the military authorities required...."

 

 

One might reasonably expect that the politicians who opposed compulsory military service believed that there was some underlying support for their view among the general population. According to the Official History Military Operations: France and Belgium Vol I 1916 page 152 some 748,587 men applied to the Military Service Tribunals for exemptions from military service by the end of June 1916. Over the same period 770,000 men had joined the Army. Again this might suggest the 'vast majority' were not quite as keen to die fighting for their country.

 

According to Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire (page 367) by the end of April 1917 over a million exemptions had been granted in addition to 3.2 million Protected Trades and Occupations. By end  October 1918 over 2.5 million men were exempt Military Service.

 

England (Conscription) saw 24.02% of its male population recruited. Australia (no conscription) saw 13.48% which might provide some indication of the relative enthusiasm for the War if given a choice. New Zealand (conscription) 19.35%, Canada (highly controversial and bitterly opposed conscription from Jan 1918. Riots.) 13.48%  and South Africa 11.12% [Source: Statistics page 363].

 

Indian voluntary recruiting  - which exceeded all other colonies and dominions combined - is notably absent from the racially based recruiting stats which defined recruiting of the 'white population' only. 

 

Gunga Din.

 

* CAB 17/158 Derby Scheme

 

Edited. typo: hit for had

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Gunga Din

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Terry_Reeves
4 hours ago, sassenach said:

I'm not sure that a demonstration in London by "an estimated 100,000" socialists, trade unionists and pacifists automatically mirrors the general national mood.

It shows that there was not uniform enthusiasm, see my post no 11. Also there was a decline in recruiting in 1915 after the initial rush, hence the introduction of the National Registration Act to try and establish the number of men of military age who had not yet volunteered. The Derby Scheme failed to produce sufficient numbers, hence the introduction of conscription. The nation tolerated it, but that is not quite the same as universal popularity.

 

 

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Medaler
3 hours ago, Terry_Reeves said:

It shows that there was not uniform enthusiasm, see my post no 11. Also there was a decline in recruiting in 1915 after the initial rush, hence the introduction of the National Registration Act to try and establish the number of men of military age who had not yet volunteered. The Derby Scheme failed to produce sufficient numbers, hence the introduction of conscription. The nation tolerated it, but that is not quite the same as universal popularity.

 

 

 

And yet WW2 was a completely invitation only affair, but seems to have been quite popular both at the time and since.

 

Mike

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Gunga Din
8 hours ago, Medaler said:

 

And yet WW2 was a completely invitation only affair, but seems to have been quite popular both at the time and since.

 

Mike

 

This might have something to do with the UK's relatively higher casualty ratios of the Great War v WWII. In addition the relatively higher and longer commitment of Russia against Germany in particular and the relatively earlier involvement of the US in WWII. In addition the more highly mechanised and technologigal nature of WWII meant  a relatively higher proportion of manpower demand for industry. We are not comparing like with like across the two wars. For example the number of UK civilian deaths caused by enemy action such as the Blitz in WWII was far greater and possibly a spur to recruiting. 

 

GD

Edited by Gunga Din

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sassenach

It may be that there was something close to universal enthusiasm at first (I don't accept that a single demonstration in London proves otherwise) but that it waned, understandably, as the war dragged on.

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Moonraker
18 hours ago, Moonraker said:

Thinking and doing are quite different things. ..

 

"A Volunteer", by Helen Parry Eden

 

which reflects my earlier observation.

 

Moonraker

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Medaler
On 02/10/2018 at 07:52, Gunga Din said:

 

This might have something to do with the UK's relatively higher casualty ratios of the Great War v WWII. In addition the relatively higher and longer commitment of Russia against Germany in particular and the relatively earlier involvement of the US in WWII. In addition the more highly mechanised and technologigal nature of WWII meant  a relatively higher proportion of manpower demand for industry. We are not comparing like with like across the two wars. For example the number of UK civilian deaths caused by enemy action such as the Blitz in WWII was far greater and possibly a spur to recruiting. 

 

GD

 

What I was trying to say, though in fairness didn't make a very good job of it, was that conscription would seem to be irrelevant in determining if a war has "popularity" or not. My own thoughts are that the outcome of a war influences its popularity. WW1 ended without pushing Germany to the point of it being an obvious victory - one of the very factors that was used by later Germans to contemplate "round 2". In contrast, there was no room for argument about the crushing defeat that they suffered a generation later. The more decisive the defeat of our enemies the more, as a nation, we take delight in it. I think it likely that immediate postwar views of WW1 in the 30's cloud our perception of the way it was being viewed during the years we were actively engaged in fighting it. Much of the unpopularity of WW1 perhaps stems from our dissapointment that we ended up having to do it all again. WW2 is also perhaps more popular because the enemy would seem to be even more loathsome than they had been the first time around.

 

Whilst I recognise that using WW2 as a yardstick to measure WW1 is dangerous, I do think that is sometimes valid to make comparisons between the two.

 

Mike

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Gunga Din
1 hour ago, Medaler said:

 

What I was trying to say, though in fairness didn't make a very good job of it, was that conscription would seem to be irrelevant in determining if a war has "popularity" or not.

Mike

 

If the "vast majority believed the Great War was worth fighting" , why did the UK Govt need to introduce the Military Services Act? I don't follow the logic. 

 

The 'Revisionist' school has lots of very sound arguments but this is not one of them. 

 

GD

Edited by Gunga Din

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voltaire60
On 01/10/2018 at 21:32, Gunga Din said:

England (Conscription) saw 24.02% of its male population recruited. Australia (no conscription) saw 13.48% which might provide some indication of the relative enthusiasm for the War if given a choice. New Zealand (conscription) 19.35%, Canada (highly controversial and bitterly opposed conscription from Jan 1918. Riots.) 13.48%  and South Africa 11.12% [Source: Statistics page 363].

 

Indian voluntary recruiting  - which exceeded all other colonies and dominions combined - is notably absent from the racially based recruiting stats which defined recruiting of the 'white population' only. 

 

 

1)  When you say "England", do you mean the UK....or UK + Ireland????

 

2) "racially based recruiting stats which defined recruiting of the 'white population' only".  Could you refer me to the "white" statistics for the UK or where the statistical series of non-whites can be found? 

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Gunga Din
4 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

1)  When you say "England", do you mean the UK....or UK + Ireland????

 

2) "racially based recruiting stats which defined recruiting of the 'white population' only".  Could you refer me to the "white" statistics for the UK or where the statistical series of non-whites can be found? 

 

1) England... The stats for the UK are misleading as men 'normally resident in Ireland' were exempt the MSA. 6.14% still enlisted which suggests that in Ireland at least enthusiasm to enlist was below that of all the major Overseas Colonies and Dominions' 'white' populations. Had Irish recruiting matched that of England it would have generated another 390,000 men or enough to man about 19 Divisions at War Establishment. One of the consequences of this lack of enthusiasm to enlist was that the 16th Irish Division had only one Irish battalion in August 1918 and the 10 Irish Division had 3 Irish battalions. The other ten battalions in the 10th Irish Div were from the Indian Army  - volunteers to a man.

 

2) Page 740. The 'white' statistics only refer to the major Colonies and Dominions on page 363, however they are re-stated with recruiting in England, Scotland , Wales and Ireland under "Total white enlistments" in table (e) "The Provision of men for the Armed Forces of the Crown (as far as the Army is concerned)" on page 740 "British Empire's Contribution"

 

On page 363 The right hand column covering recruiting from Canada Australia New Zealand  South Africa and Newfoundland reads "Percentage of total white male population represented by total recruited". India is not included in the Recruiting on page 363 in  "Statistics" despite raising over a million men. The Indian standing Army was 239,561 in Aug 1914 and a further 1,161,789 Indians were recruited up to 30th Sep 1918. Edit. This compares to 984,612 'white males' recruited in Canada, Australia, NZ, SA, and Newoundland combined.

 

On page 777 "India's Military Contribution during the War" records 877,068 combatants and 563,369 non combatants  -  a grand total of 1,440,437 of whom 1,096,012 served in a theatre of war.

 

Additionally 97,827 'coloured troops' from South Africa, 10,000 from the West Indies and 20,000 from Other Colonies are recorded on page 740

 

I hope that helps answer your question.

 

GD

 

Incidentally the long list of India's war dead includes 8,920 civilian followers. Unarmed. Volunteers. In theatres of war. 

Edited by Gunga Din

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Medaler
7 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

 

If the "vast majority believed the Great War was worth fighting" , why did the UK Govt need to introduce the Military Services Act? I don't follow the logic. 

 

The 'Revisionist' school has lots of very sound arguments but this is not one of them. 

 

GD

 

The answer to that is fairly straightforward. They already had conscription in Germany, so how were we supposed to meet an army numbered in millions with a force numbered in mere hundreds of thousands? If Germany had not already been playing the conscription game for years, would all of their required manpower have volunteered? - I doubt it.

 

Conscription in Britain was a reluctant concession to a war that fed on blood, flesh and bone - commodities that we were rapidly running out of on a volunteer basis. By 1916 it was a simple choice really, start conscription or pack in and go home - all the while hoping that Germany didn't thrash France and then decide that we would be next. Would German ambition have stopped purely because we had run out of volunteers? - I doubt that too.

 

The key difference I am outlining is that WW2 was (apart from the usual pre-war standing army) a 100% conscription affair for us - and yet the majority of the population were behind it at the time and still would be today. By contrast WW1 largely seems to have lost its popularity at some point in time after it had been fought. Somehow now the fight against Hitler's Germany is seen as a much worthier cause than the earlier struggle against the Kaiser's men. That's the bit that doesn't really make much sense, given that the Germans already had lots of "form" for ignoring the rules of war during 14-18.

 

Mike

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Terry_Reeves

Medaler

 

With respect, I think you are missing the point. The rubric states that "the majority of Britons thought that World War One was worth fighting."  It is clear that in 1915 that the reluctance of men of military age to enlist showed there was doubts.The short war thesis proved to be a fallacy;  married men were reluctant to come forward because of the financial problems arising from enlisting, in particular their families having to wait considerable time to receive their allowances reports of which which were widely published in the press at the time.  Conscription was introduced because  of the failure of the voluntary system, which seems to suggest, for some of those reasons mentioned above, that there wasn't quite the commitment that the rubric suggests. Conscription was in the end is forcible service with penalties both legal and social for refusing. That is not to say everybody rejected the war but it that is not the same as saying the war was uniformly accepted.

 

With regard to Britain's contribution versus that of Germany, let's not forget we were involved in coalition warfare on the main battle front with our main ally being France who had an army twice the size of that of our's. We were not expected to take on the main body of the enemy ourselves.

 

With regard to the comparison with  WW2,  there were  differences.  First, The British public were quietly being prepared for war from about 1937 onwards, indeed I have a government booklet calling for volunteers, not just for the armed forces, but the the special constabulary, and various agencies that would be useful in time of conflict. When conscription was introduced it was done in a graduated manner unlike that of 1914, based on age - youngest first. I would also point out that that a large part of the British army spent much time at home after the evacuation from France in 1940 and were not engaged with the main body of the enemy, that is Germany, until 1944.  The other main difference is that the Britain was seriously in danger, for a short while, of being invaded in 1940, unlike the invasion scare of 1914 - prompted by the pro-conscription lobby,  various right wing newspapers and at least one author 

who had gained some credence with an unsupecting public.

 

TR

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Edited by Terry_Reeves

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