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Ghazala

The Great War was a grim necessity

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voltaire60
11 hours ago, David Filsell said:

. It was a war we did not start

 

     No, this is factually wrong.  It was the British Government that issued an ultimatum to Germany, not the other way round. By issuing the ultimatum, the British Government knew full well what the consequences would be.It was the British Government that decided on war with Germany and not the other way around.

    As to Belgian neutrality, there appears to be a lot of evidence that this was promoted as the reason for war to have the support of "public opinion" (with the consequent Press campaigns over "German atrocities"), while "realpolitik" comes through the document series.

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voltaire60
21 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

 

No guessing is required. If you could be bothered to  read my post#14 I provide the reference. Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire. 

 

Edit: I just noticed that your Post asking the questions actually quotes my Post which ends: "[Source: Statistics page 363]" so it seems I did have the grace to provide the reference. Might I suggest you read things a bit more carefully.

 

The stats in question are recruiting stats based on Official figures. They are also referenced in most books by established profession academics who have written about the subject. Peter Simkins in his "Kitchener's Army" refers to this series of stats in Chapter 2 on a number of occasions. His Chapter 3 "Recruiting in decline October 1914-May 1915 does the same. Chapter 5 "The Coming of Conscription" might help shed some light on the magnitude of the crisis..... The Society for Army Historical research thought the book was so good Simkins was awarded the Templer Medal in 1988. Are you really disputing the recruiting stats? WO 162/3 by the way. 

 

If you want to dispute the recruiting stats it would be interesting to see what alternative sources you would like to offer. I cant see why anyone would think the recruiting stats are erroneous. To save you the time, the weekly recruiting stats are available at the National Archives and resolve very well with those reproduced in Statistics. They are also referenced in a mass of correspondence between various Districts, Commands and the War Office, and can often be checked at Battalion level in some diaries and published histories. In addition a completely different set of data for the fortnightly strength of every unit in the British Army At Home can be used as a cross-check. If these tens of thousands of figures are incorrect (as you seem to be implying) it would involve the creation of a rather elaborate and extremely time consuming fabrication of tens of thousands of data points and thousands of pages of correspondence over a long period of time. 

 

Personally I think the recruiting stats are accurate as (for example) we have multiple sources to cross check as the 156 battalions of K1 and K2 were built (a third source). To fabricate statistics on this level would see so unlikely as to be almost impossible. It would require another unimaginable effort to falsify weekly data for the Reserve Battalions, K1, K2, K3 and K4, the first and second line TF units across all arms.  The Govt didn't need to massage the stats as they had too many men in Aug Sep 1914... the problems started in 1915 when recruiting started to collapse in the wake of the nightmare unfolding on the Western Front and later the shambles known as Gallipoli. This was no secret as the National Registration Bill became law in mid July 1915 and was followed by the very public Derby Scheme. 38% of Single men and 54% of married men allegedly refused to enlist by end Dec 1915; more than 16 months into the War. [Source: CAB 37/140]. So much for the 'vast majority'.....*

 

There can be little doubt that despite the initial rush in Aug-Sep 1914, the War Office still faced a recruiting crisis in 1915. Whether this lack of enthusiasm to enlist reflected the mood of the nation is a point of debate. Persoanlly I think that the reluctance to enlist meant that the 'vast majority' did not necessarily think the war was worth fighting. Certainly the 'vast majority' of men normally resident in Ireland didn't appear to think so - the only group within the UK who actually had a choice as they were exempt. 

 

Gunga Din

 

* According to the 1911 Census (the last reliable figures we have), 61.8% of males between the age of 20 and 45 were married. Using this as a proxy for the proportions married or single in 1914-15 would imply around 47.9% of men of military age had not enlisted by end 1915. We sort of know this already given that the period of Conscription 1916-1918 accounted for slightly under 50% of all recruits during the War. 

 

 

 

Edited for typos

 

     I believe the recruting stats. to be accurate.  I do not believe the SMEBE casualty stats. to be accurate. There is a difference. :wub:

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voltaire60

I am not sure where this is going, nor why it has gone sideways into "recruiting" figures, which seems to have come out of the woodwork somehow. 

 

      Was the war a grim necessity?    There are 2 issues in this, which independently lead to substantial debate along completely different routes.

 

i)  War the war "grim" ?    Well, yes it was-   with the benefit of hindsight, not as grim as Mark II 1939-45 but a lot more grim than anticipated by those who were responsible for Britain going into the war in 1914.

 

2) Was it a "necessity"?   Yes, the political and administrative leadership of GB in 1914 believed that it was. Belgium was not the most important issue in these decisions. After the beginning?  Well, you pays your money and you makes your choice.  The question as to whether the war should have been continued is a very different question as to whether it should have been begun-  and the nature of the war (=grimness) is an important consideration.  Perhaps more important even than the interminable debates about the July Crisis, Military Conversations,etc is WHY the war did not stop earlier  and WHY those who advocated a non-military solution (ie a negotiated peace) got nowhere.

 

    Did the war have the support of the British people?   Unanswerable to a fixed Yes or No.  The extent of the franchise is not relevant as there was no means for any electorate to hold the executive to account short of a general election. There was (and probably still is) no peaceful process to resist was by the electorate outside of a ballot box.  All measures put through during the war were done under powers "democratically" put through Parliament by a "democratically" elected government based on the results of the second general Election of 1910 -and with consequent notions of "mandate". Of course, the 1910 mandate from a general election did not foresee such matters as the Military Service Acts or DORA but the reserve powers were always there. And still are..  

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Medaler
48 minutes ago, Gunga Din said:

 

Edit. I need to further clarify why (in answer to your first question) I referred to English (sic) recruiting and not the UK. Prof Sheffield very carefully uses the words "British" and "Britons" which of course excludes Ireland of 1914 and Northern Ireland today. It is a very carefully chosen construct that some Ulstermen  and some from the Irish Republic might find undervalues the considerable contribution of that part of the British Isles (despite the lower recruiting). 

 

By eliminating Ireland (defined in 1914) Prof Sheffield carefully excludes 9.4% of the UK's population (1914) from his 'vast majority' and 9.7% of men of military age. He presumably did this in recognition of the rather inconvenient truth of the General Strike on 23rd April 1918 in Ireland that opposed Conscription at the height of the 1918 recruiting crisis. All this of course happened just 18 days after the end of the German Spring Offensive

 

Gunga Din

 

I know we all like to think that every word used by or historians has been carefully selected to convey precise levels of meaning, but you may be reading too much into the "Britons" aspect. It is, after all, part of a broad sweeping statement, and the term is frequently used in contexts which are at odds with its true meaning. I wouldn't like to say that he was deliberately saying something about the relationship between Britain and Ireland from the article quoted at the beginning of this thread.

 

Earlier on you mentioned that you felt that after a certain date you felt that the national press were merely a propaganda tool for the British government. I'm sure you are correct in that assesment. If you want a barometer of public opinion you might consider articles before that date? Beyond that, a trawl through the extant private correspondence of individuals may give an indicator where an opinion of the war is being expressed. Difficult to find and access, but such documents do exist.

 

Mike

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sassenach
23 minutes ago, Gunga Din said:

the three referendums in the last century

Four; you're forgetting the Alternative Vote referendum in 2011.

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Medaler

I almost made a Brexit comparison myself earlier in this discussion, but didn't want to pollute things by dragging modern politics into it. There are clearly parallels that can be drawn. You also touch on some of the aspects that make democracy as we have it in practice a less than perfect concept. In the greater sense however I think democracy and the prevailing political system is a red herring - purely because we are talking about public opinion. All folk can (and probably did have) an opinion regardless of their being enfranchised or not.

 

The key also revolves around when this public opinion is measured, with the largest number in favour presumably being present before a shot was actually fired. It could be argued that the sheer volume of volunteers in Aug/Sept/Oct points towards record numbers of the eligible portion of the population making the most dramatic demonstration of their support that it was possible for them to give. Of course, they were not a majority of those eligible, but it shows a great deal of commitment by a great number. It is highly likely that many of those who did enlist in those early months did so for reasons that would not stand close scrutiny several months later, but that isn't the point.

 

Perhaps a factor that is underestimated is that popularity became much greater once the chips were down. A kind of "were in it now, so we had better darned well win" attitude that we so frequently hear mention of as the "Dunkirk spirit".

 

As we both agree - it ain't easy - particularly now that there is nobody left to ask.

 

Regards,

Mike

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David Filsell

Lost? Maybe. Although German aggressive intentions were clear. It rather depends how you define start  suppose

Bored? Certainly with fairies on the pin heads.

Edited by David Filsell

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charlie962

Brief mention was made earlier of the Boer War.

 

Rather than trying to compare to WW2, would a comparison back to the Boer War be more helpful when illustrating the difference between peoples' opinions and actions?

 

I always thought  that the vast majority of the British people thought that was worth fighting? I have no stats to back this up.

 

I thought there was a huge surge of Volunteers but I've no idea if that was sufficient (both quality and quantity), because I have no stats to back this up.

 

I always assumed that the majority of people who thought it was 'worth fighting' had absolutely no intention of actually participating in the fighting themselves. I have no stats to back this up.

 

Charlie

 

 

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Scalyback

 

20 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

It would be interesting to see what it contained. Of related interest is that the by-election immediately prior to the decision on the MSA was won in a Labour Heartland of Merthyr Tydfil  - made vacant when Keir Hardie MP (anti war and a Scotsman) passed away in Sep 1915 - which the Conservatives and Liberals did not contest.

 

Merthyr Tydfil at the time was not a Labour Heartland. Haride was the junior MP to the liberal MP David Alfred Thomas, political scheming by the split liberal party at a local level enabled Haride to get in. With the 1915 by-election the Labour candidate Charles Stanton had more support from Aberdare than Merthyr Tydfil. The Liberals did not have to contest the seat as they already held the other seat in the constituency with Sir Edgar Rees Jones. There is a strange political history to the town from the chartists to the second world war. 

 

I could expand further on the town and the possible influence Hardie and the unions had on the town in regards to the war.  Something I'm working on as a small talk. Overall the town did not support the war but there are various reasons to this and not one issue. 

 

Given the question of the thread overall. I do not think support for the war was the same everywhere. Pockets of almost anti war feeling to pockets of total support of the war at any cost. Then like now, you can not say the united kingdom has a united look on the world. 

 

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
35 minutes ago, Scalyback said:

There is a strange political history to the town from the chartists to the second world war. 

Not forgetting that the Red Flag was raised in the town during the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Thought to be the first time in British ( ? world) history for it to be raised as a symbol of workers' power.

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Medaler
5 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

 

 

I sense a convergence of thought.

 

Well, I'm not so sure about that. I think you are probably still of the opinion that the majority of the population did not think the war was worth fighting, and I still fall into the opposite camp. Not based on any hard quotable evidence. My research interests perhaps come at this from a different angle, in that I study individual casualties via their medals. I also study their memorials within my local area. Of course, by its nature, that type of research does not take into account much about the politics. I do though frequently come across opinion which demonstrates that the lads at the front believed that they were fighting, suffering and dying in what they felt to be a noble cause. Frequently the local press printed letters from these men which repeat sentiments that are just too commonplace to ignore or write off as propaganda, and there is no evidence that I have ever found to imply that they were read by an audience who scoffed at them. Now it may be possible to dismiss all of this as supplying articles to a readership who wanted to read that sort of thing, but it could not have been presented to an audience that didn't believe a word of it. Perhaps the audience were simply not prepared to risk appearing disloyal to the lads that were quite commonly perceived to be fighting on their behalf.

 

My own personal opinion is that the majority of us now find it difficult to see the world as they saw it, because attitudes have changed so much. I also think that a lot of negative views of the war only became commonplace long after the last shots had been fired. Much of the negativity about the war however seems to be history written with the benefit of hindsight.

 

Mike

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Scalyback
2 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Not forgetting that the Red Flag was raised in the town during the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Thought to be the first time in British ( ? world) history for it to be raised as a symbol of workers' power.

 

British. I think a group of Russian(?) sailors used it before but Merthyr Riots was the first to connect to workers and unions. 

My fathers side of the family at the time was the commercial class of Crickhowell and tutting away no doubt. They had most of the high street between the family. 

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Scalyback
7 minutes ago, Medaler said:

My own personal opinion is that the majority of us now find it difficult to see the world as they saw it, because attitudes have changed so much

 

Local attitude was not the same as I mentioned above. Merthyr Tydfil was a big town yet no "Pals" battalions or named battalion in the Welsh regiment. Rhondda supplied two named battalions to the Welsh despite being less populated and anti Churchill feeling from the Tonypany riots only a few years before. 

Edited by Scalyback

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Herekawe

I think that the people "running" the war and organizing the man power would have realized fairly early on that our allies and enemies had conscript armies and for Britain to participate in a meaningful way, that whatever might have been said at the time, conscription was inevitable. Kitchener evidently realised this, although he was calling for volunteers, that millions of men would be required. NZ had conscription in 1916 and about 135,000 men were conscripted of whom 30,000 or so ended up fighting. 70,000 men volunteered so NZ's force contained a large proportion of conscripts. However I think the NZ government was quite smart about this, refusing an offer to form a second division, instead opting for a four brigade division, which was later broken up to form entrenching battalions, with conscription the NZ Division remained a fully manned 3 Brigade 4 Battalion outfit until close to the end of the war.

 

The Australians with no conscription struggled to keep their numbers up, which in turn must have made it much harder on the men who were fighting so well.

 

Not only white NZers served Maori also served but were exempt from conscription as rates of volunteers had been high. However if Maori wanted to volunteer many just lined up with the rest and will be in those statistics.

 

NZ had universal suffrage since 1893 so not sure what relevance that has.

 

Finally I don't think low numbers of volunteers is necessarily the same as reluctant to serve. Many people who didn't want to volunteer would go when called upon, while we tend to look at the numbers who protested at being conscripted the majority evidently just turned up. 

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
10 minutes ago, Scalyback said:


British. I think a group of Russian(?) sailors used it before . 

Yes, I think some British sailors did the same, but in terms of non military workers, it is quite possibly the first instance. The flag had been raised during the French Revolution by the revolutionary government, but not strictly by workers themselves.

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PhilB

Isn't it one of the tendencies of most historians to present, among real facts, personal intuitions as quasi facts? Readers then adopt these as actual facts if they correspond with their own leanings.

Edited by PhilB

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Medaler
13 hours ago, Gunga Din said:

 

No. I am questioning that anyone actually knew if the vast majority, a majority, a minority or the vast minority believed it worth fighting. I don't know and I don't believe anyone else does either; because no-one asked the population what they thought. It follows that any statement claiming to know what the population thought is not founded in fact (in my view). The "vast majority etc.." is an interesting theory that is as yet unproven. It is not usually incumbent on doubters to disprove something that is unproven. Not in western academia at least. Hopefully the Professor will drop in and point us towards the evidence.

 

This is only my view and therefore not really that important. 

 

GD

 

 

 

Just because we disagree (a bit) it doesn't make your views unimportant. Quite the reverse actually.

 

57 minutes ago, PhilB said:

Isn't it one of the tendencies of most historians to present, among real facts, personal intuitions as quasi facts? Readers then adopt these as actual facts if they correspond with their own leanings.

 

Sadly not restricted to modern historians, though I reckon that for flights of fancy the Archeologists take some beating.

 

Mike

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Gunga Din

The following links might help expand the debate about what some people were thinking during the war;

 

1. "Attitudes towards Conscription" Interestingly the Mass Observation programme in WWII recorded lots of comments and views on Conscription in WWI - all buried in the archive and sadly not online.

 

2. "The Perils of Conscription" by John Bruce Glasier of the Independent Labour Party is well worth a read. I suspect this is the paper that Arthur Henderson MP presented to the War Cabinet in late 1915 mentioned by Hankey. There is a related pamphlet on Militarism by the ILP which I can't locate online. Only Hathi Trust with limited access. 

 

3. World War One Era Pamphlets . Note that 22 of the pamphlets were suppressed by the authorities; some as early as 17th August 1914.If one wanted to control what people were thinking, this type of suppression is a starting point, particularly in a 'democracy' where the vast majority could not vote.

 

Very probably not representative of the national mood but at least shows alternative views were being aired and suppressed. Interestingly 200,000 people protested in Trafalgar Square in April 1916 against Conscription and later that year 30% of all liable men called up failed to register according to some authors. I have yet to find the source for this.

 

Gunga Din

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PhilB
43 minutes ago, Medaler said:

 

Sadly not restricted to modern historians, 

 

Mike

T`was always thus! I particularly notice eminent historians telling me how great figures from medieval and older history felt, thought and opined, not least biblical figures.

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Medaler
40 minutes ago, Gunga Din said:

The following links might help expand the debate about what some people were thinking during the war;

 

1. "Attitudes towards Conscription" Interestingly the Mass Observation programme in WWII recorded lots of comments and views on Conscription in WWI - all buried in the archive and sadly not online.

 

2. "The Perils of Conscription" by John Bruce Glasier of the Independent Labour Party is well worth a read. I suspect this is the paper that Arthur Henderson MP presented to the War Cabinet in late 1915 mentioned by Hankey. There is a related pamphlet on Militarism by the ILP which I can't locate online. Only Hathi Trust with limited access. 

 

3. World War One Era Pamphlets . Note that 22 of the pamphlets were suppressed by the authorities; some as early as 17th August 1914.If one wanted to control what people were thinking, this type of suppression is a starting point, particularly in a 'democracy' where the vast majority could not vote.

 

Very probably not representative of the national mood but at least shows alternative views were being aired and suppressed. Interestingly 200,000 people protested in Trafalgar Square in April 1916 against Conscription and later that year 30% of all liable men called up failed to register according to some authors. I have yet to find the source for this.

 

Gunga Din

 

Very interesting reading, though I am not sure how pertinent those sources are to the matter in hand, ie that the war had an overwhelming majority of support amongst the population. There is a world of difference between "It's the right thing to do" and "I want to take part in it". As I have mentioned before in passing, the majority of the population could express a view in favour of the war in the sure and certain knowledge that they were never going to be at risk of actually getting involved at the sharp end. Even of those who were liable to find themselves in a trench via conscription, not all were against the principle. Turkey's voting for Christmas? Perhaps surprisingly it looks like, when they were faced with no alternative, a goodly number of them stepped up to the mark - perhaps because the war had their backing? (conjecture of course!).

 

It's good stuff - and I hasten to add all new to me, but are we drifting too far away from the original bone of contention? Time for another thread about conscription?

 

Am I making any sense?

 

Mike

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Kimberley John Lindsay

Dear Mike,

You make sense!

Kindest regards,

Kim.

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voltaire60
16 hours ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Not forgetting that the Red Flag was raised in the town during the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Thought to be the first time in British ( ? world) history for it to be raised as a symbol of workers' power.

 

     And its lost its municipal status as a borough after a Royal Commission in the 1930s??

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voltaire60

1. "Attitudes towards Conscription" Interestingly the Mass Observation programme in WWII recorded lots of comments and views on Conscription in WWI - all buried in the archive and sadly not online.

   No-  the MO archive at the University of Sussex has been digitised and is a subscription website -mostly institutions. I am lucky enough to use the LSE access. Interesting stuff too.   The nearest  I know for the Great War as to mood of the people are the books by Caroline Plane- interesting, not scientific (proto-sociology?) but perceptive observations. Uncommon as books nowadays and I don't see much mention of them in writings about the Great War

     One problem of contemporary views abou the Great War is the "Voice of the People" argument for the middle of the Nineteenth Century, in the age of the Unstamped Press and the Chartists (and thereabouts). The argument is about how representative working class writers were?  Of course, on the one hand it is easy to find a Nineteenth Century working class autobiography (eg James Dawson Burn:Autobiography of a Beggar Boy) and syas that it represents THE view of the working class. The case against is that those with enough intellect, resources and drive to write the stuff were, de facto unrepresentative-that they were the exceptions and that,therefore their views are not true. 

   The Bruce Glasier stuff is interesting but he was a marginal agitator in a marginal ILP setting. And that long before the war. A principled man but wars he envisgaed tended to be of the "limited" war end of the market. 1914 was beyond anyone's grasp.

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Medaler
22 minutes ago, Gunga Din said:

 

If that is what you believe the statement means (I don't  - and this is clearly where we differ), it should have a qualifier viz:

 

"In Britain the vast majority of people thought the war worth fighting - as long as it was someone else doing the fighting"  - perhaps by the Australians, Canadians, Newfoundlanders, New Zealanders, African and Indians ..and the Americans when the turned up? 

 

If they were not prepared to fight unless legally forced to, it is a rather hollow statement. It is akin to claiming the vast majority of voters wanted to stay in Europe (based on the 160 odd polls prior to the vote) despite the result of the vote. The polls were not indictative of the voters' actions.  The supposition and the evidence are divergent.... Presumably if we 'know' what people thought, we would know what proportion thought they should do the fighting themselves in this imaginary national survey? I don't believe we know the answer to this question either. The only hard evidence is the proportions willing to act on their alleged beliefs which would indicate far from the vast majority if the results of the Derby Scheme are any indication....despite all the cajoling and pressure close to 2 million 'unstarred' men declined to attest by the end of 1915. Surely we can extrapolate some conclusions from this? 

 

Gunga Din

 

Not quite what I was trying to say - my fault!

 

I will be brief. Using attitudes to conscription (which may on their own have even had the backing of the majority of public opinion) is most likely not truely indicative of a majority of the support for the war by the wider public. It's a subset of opinion which is likely to skew our view of the opinion on the wider subject that is the true subject of this thread. It's a red herring.

 

The link to pamphlets for example - very interesting though they are - What size were the print runs?, Are we going to assume that all who read them agreed with their content? The BNP publish pamphlets - does that mean that their views are endorsed by the majority of the British public? Sure, pamphlets about conscription represent some opinion, but they offer no clue about how widely held that opinion was.

 

We are here to examine the statement that the overwhelming majority of the British public thought that the war was worth fighting. We are also seemingly of the united opinion that we can neither prove nor disprove that statement. You have your view, I have mine. Addressing a different subject viz conscription is not going to resolve anything.

 

That doesn't mean that the subject of conscription is not interesting, and it does not mean that I was not happy for you to point me at sources on that subject that I had not seen before - I am learning much!

 

Mike

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Muerrisch

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

* in the text this becomes "vast"

 

Having read all the many contributions I find that I broadly agree with the first assertion [but with new reservations regarding our Treaty obligations to uphold Belgian neutrality] but am far from persuaded by the second.

 

"Britons thought" is very vague, both with regard to "Britons" and "thinking".  Thinking is a process which occurs at a point in time, to be renewed or modified or replaced or forgotten sooner or later. If Professor Sheffield were to maintain "in August 1914", although he could not prove his contention, he might demonstrate it by recruiting figures and I could agree from purely anecdotal evidence and family reminiscences [I pre-date the Second World War so I mixed with many who were actively or passively involved].

As for later in the war, perhaps even as early as the retreat ["withdrawal"!] beyond Le Cateau, this must be a darker shade of grey.

There is of course a distinction to be drawn between thinking something, and acting on it. This distinction has, I believe, been blurred by a fair number of contributions to this thread.

Regardless of what "the majority of Britons" thought , we surely cannot use the yardstick of military service, because they, the majority, were either women or under-age, or both. Thus recruiting statistics and the fact of conscription hold a flawed mirror to "Britons thinking".

It would be good to hear from Professor Sheffield.

Edited by Muerrisch
asterisked addition [new verb?]

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