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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Donkeys led by Lions!?


stevehowarth

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G. DeGRoot in 'Blighty' offers the following proposition:

'Officers and commanders were very lion-like: dominant, domineering, selfish and preoccupied with the preservation of their world. With no disrespect intended, the working class soldier was a beast of burden ['donkey'], a man caged a life of drudgery, squalor, powerlessness and social status. As such he made the perfect soldier.

Is this a fair reinterpretation of the 'lions led by donkeys' cliche?

Steve

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Here is a dominant, domineering, selfish, preoccupied with his own world man. Just one.

Gloster, Lt Ivan Lancelot. Born in the parish of St Matthews in Walsall on 4 March 1893, his father was Thomson Gloster of 103 Sandwell Road. In 1914 he was employed as a draper. Ivan enlisted on 1 September 1914 and was taken into the Reserve Cavalry Regiment (Hussars) as Private 17073. It is known that during his training he served with 4th Troop of C Squadron, 13th Cavalry Reserve Regiment, which was based at Colchester. Ivan was commissioned on 20 September 1915, and is first mentioned in the 1st Battalion South Staffords war diary when arriving for duty on 25 February 1916. He reported sick in April 1916 with chronic tonsillitis, with which he had been suffering since December 1914. He is next mentioned in the war diary on 22 September 1916 when he rejoined the battalion - what happened in the interval is uncertain. On 29 September 1917 he was posted to the 22nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as Transport Officer. Sadly he was wounded just a few days later on 4 October 1917, hit by shell fragments in the left knee and forearm. He was admitted to No 1 Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet, going via 64 Field Ambulance RAMC and 11 Casualty Clearing Station. He embarked at Calais on 27 November 1917 and was taken to the Prince of Wales Hospital on Marylebone Road in London. Ivan relinquished his commission as a result of his wounds and at that time was walking only with the aid of a stick. He was 24 years old.

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We all have our opinions. I am disappointed with the post, though. As Chris indicates are things ever as clear cut as De Groot thinks? If he hasn't done so Steve should search the site for maybe 'Haig' and 'Butcher' and he'll get a better feel for the issues before he makes up his mind.

Bernard

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Just seen Chris's second post. Excellent.

How about John Stanley Strange of the Swansea Battalion? A brewery worker at the outbreak of war and not one who joined in the first few days. But he did soon volunteer for the embryonic Swansea Battalion, his name being third on the list.

Commissioned, he went out twice into No Mans Land to look for 2 missing men (both were in fact dead) and got an MC for his trouble (June 1916). At Mametz Wood he not only helped organise men from several units in the confusion but also found time to bandage the wounds of a wounded soldier.

Oh, and he also took over temporary command of the Battalion as it advanced into the wood, his superior officer having been wounded. And Strange himself was then wounded while still fighting his way forward (July 1916).

At Third Ypres he got a DSO for organising his front under difficult conditions. He regularly wrote home giving bad news to families - never an easy duty but one he did not shirk (July 1917).

At Aveluy Wood he found his company under friendly artillery fire (not his fault) and was captured in the confusion. His Brigade commander commented that 'if any officer could have got them through the barrage it was Captain Strange' (May 1918). He was released in December 1918.

Domineering, selfish and preoccupied with his own world?

Bernard

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We were told in school, about a million years ago, that this sort of statement was termed a "glittering generality." I would not hesitate to call it a sordid pronouncement of utter stupidity.

DrB

:)

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Looking closely at the original post, I would say , yes. This is a very fair representation of the Donkeys Argument. It is only fair to say, that this is no longer even a cause for dissension in the ranks of the students of WW1. It takes its place alongside Phlogiston and Ptolemaic cosmology as ideas which are long since discarded. So , no longer an argument, nothing to see here, move along please. :)

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I smell a troll!!!

Aye

Malcolm

You sound like Big Billy Goat Gruff ;) , but then again, so do I.

I can't believe books actually get printed with sort of tosh in it; I daresay every one of us could give examples - I'll setlle for Br gen Gater, CMG, DSO*: a civilian at the outbreak of war, a general in Nov 1917 (at the age of 31), and a lifetime of public service 9as an educationalist) post-war.

Memo to self - take Mr De Groot's books off my 'wants' list.

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Guest brucefourtee
Here is a dominant, domineering, selfish, preoccupied with his own world man. Just one.

Mr Degroot insults his memory and that of all.

Captain De Groot did however make aname for himself in this world when he upstaged the NSW Premier in slashing the ribbon with his Cavalry sword at the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

But aren't the generalisations now so bitterly refuted, almost identical to those trotted out by the anti "Lions led by Donkeys" fratenity

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Welcome to the forum, Brucefourtee. The "anti" fraternity that you refer to do not tend to use sweeping and inaccurate generalisations, at least the ones I know of or have read. Based on lengthy archival research, their views recognise that there are no blacks and whites, only shades of grey that often changed over time. A more difficult concept to grasp but it seems to me a great deal more plausible than any "these were all good men / these were all bad men" idea.

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Is he kooking at the French?

If UK and her Dominions to refute.

Lt/Col W. Thorburn 8th Royal Scots writing in 1919.

"I have been asked to write an Introduction to this brief record of the achievements of the 8th Royal Scots.It is certainly a difficult task to compress the events of four momentous years into small compass,-----.It is to be hoped that before long a historian will be found who will undertake a full and complete history of our glorious Battalion.When such a history is written,we will demand far more than actual facts as to time and place.We will want to know the thoughts and feelings which actuated the many divergent types which made up that composite whole-the Battalion.A history of this sort will be a real human document,----."

May I suggest the above shows the reality to be a shared partnership between Officers and Men for a common goal.

George

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Steve

In answer to your question, the depiction provided by DeGroot does not represent the 'Lions led by Donkeys' thesis at all.

Clarke did not detract from the indefatigable bravery of the ordinary Tommy - on the contrary, it was precisely because of those qualities that he argued that they deserved better leadership than they received from the High Command. The critique of the latter was not directed at the officer class as a whole but Haig et al.

I am not familiar with DeGroot's book but I would be interested to hear how he came to such an extraordinary pseudo-sociological observation. For me, at least, it is the first time that I have encountered a 'Donkeys led by Lions' analysis of the British Army.

Regards

Mel

Thank you Chris

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I have to agree with Mel. The tone of some replies does seem somewhat hysterical. The poster asked for a comment (presumably a considered one) on the quote. If Mr Baker`s "all shades of grey" analogy is correct, there must have been some ORs and some officers who fitted DeG`s proposition. The poster is simply asking "How many? - a lot?" Not many, maybe. But he deserves a proper reply. :( Phil B

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Captain De Groot did however make a name for himself in this world when he upstaged the NSW Premier in slashing the ribbon with his Cavalry sword at the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I know I'm digressing, but Captain de Groot (formerly 15th Hussars and Tank Corps) used an infantry sword to slash the ribbon "In the name of the decent people of New South Wales" when he gatecrashed the Harbour Bridge opening ceremony in March 1932. See: http://www.smh.com.au/news/175-years/bridg...5126044606.html

De Groot was a member of the conservative New Guard movement who were bitterly opposed to the socialist policies of NSW Premier Jack Lang. As I recall the story, there was some contemporary surprise about de Groot not being spotted prior to his act as, unlike the official horsemen who were there, he didn't have cavalry equipment, with his sword carried by the horse, rather than himself.

The sword itself surfaced in Ireland, the country of de Groot's birth and the place to which he retired, a year or so ago, and I think that there were plans to bring it back to Australia.

Gareth

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Is this not just one of many opinions, theories, etc about the Great War, a war that contained men of all calibres, opinions and courage. It is a generalisation, and like generalisations well wide of the mark for many, but not totally untrue. The poster ( who with 91 posts would seem to be a bit of an unusual troll) was surely just asking for opinions on the quote.

If we are too wary of the Lions/Donkeys debate to this extent, that the very mention of the words invites scorn, then where do we go? Does the forum ban debate on different angles of the war- and this is one I think- perhaps if we'd resurfaced the L/D debate then it could have been said the post was intended to cause mischief- but it hasn't. The considered replies have been fair and thoughtful- in my opinion the L/D debate has been studiously avoided, whilst answering the question.

Steve, I hope you will continue to post- as I say, to me- 91 posts does not mean you are likely to be a troll in any way. Do not think too bad of the suggestion- the L/D debate attracts such emotion on here that the very hint of it can cloud judgement and postings. (Don't worry we've all done it -that obvious question to ourselves that when asked, goes off like a grenade :huh: ).

My opinion on your post is- Is this not just one of many opinions, theories, etc about the Great War a war that contained men of all calibres, opinions and courage. It is a generalisation, and like generalisations well wide of the mark for many, but not totally untrue.

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I can't believe books actually get printed with sort of tosh in it; I daresay every one of us could give examples - I'll setlle for Br gen Gater, CMG, DSO*: a civilian at the outbreak of war, a general in Nov 1917 (at the age of 31), and a lifetime of public service 9as an educationalist) post-war.

As he started in 9th Sherwood Foresters - I agree. In fact i was going to give him a mention then noticed that you had done so.

Fred Greaves VC was an OR but his brother - also one of the workers became an officer winning MC and two Bars and DSO.

Last one - During the Suvla Bay attacks - only one officer was not killed or wounded on 8 and 21st August 1915. The C.O. died leading his men on 21st after being wounded on 8th. The men would and did follow him anywhere - not because they were part of the downtrodden masses but because they knew him to be a good officer.

As with life the Army had - all types.

stevem

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......................

In answer to your question, the depiction provided by DeGroot does not represent the 'Lions led by Donkeys' thesis at all.

.....................

I am not familiar with DeGroot's book but I would be interested to hear how he came to such an extraordinary pseudo-sociological observation. For me, at least, it is the first time that I have encountered a 'Donkeys led by Lions' analysis of the British Army.

Regards

Mel

In the book " The Donkeys" by Clarke, shorn of the partial evidence produced to support it, the thesis was advanced that the High Command was composed of stupid men who sheltered in chateaux well behind the line. This and other books who supported the idea were challenged by a later group of writers known as revisionists. Our contemporary writers, who have much greater access to sources have tended to support the revisionists. It is easy to show that the donkey idea is not supported by the evidence. The ideas which motivated Clake, Winter et al. is now deemed to be discredited to the extent that it is no longer a topic for discussion by professional historians specialising in Great War studies. There is a great deal of material available here on the forum for anyone who searches on Haig, Donkeys or other likely keywords. The book review threads will yield a rich harvest in particular. It is rare now for a forum member to propose discussion of such a topic. This is possibly why it was thought to be a troll. I had my own suspicions in this direction but sought to answer in a fairly light hearted way which would indicate the ideas laid out at greater length in this post.

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I think the point is, Tom, that the the proposal is "Donkeys led by lions" - a reversal of the previous "Lions led by donkeys" discussion and almost independent of it? Phil B

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Feb 16 2007, 12:46 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I think the point is, Tom, that the the proposal is "Donkeys led by lions" - a reversal of the previous "Lions led by donkeys" discussion and almost independent of it? Phil B

Of course, I can't claim to speak for the other posters but my point is, it is, at best, a minor variation on a well worn theme. There is a long history of this kind of pointless, perverse statement leading to endless bickering. Most of it is conducted from entrenchments which remind one of the Maginot piled on the Hindenburg. They are not discussions, they are endless repetition of opinion. This is because the original proposition has no evidence to back it up. It is not grounded in fact and therefore is not susceptible of disproof. Many of the Pals may see this kind of post with a groan of " not again". Usually, I ignore this subject. This time I tried to head it off in a reasonably light hearted manner.

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I smell a troll!!!

Aye

Malcolm

We know better ... all of us do. I am surprised in the replies - both the high quality and sincere opinions.

Lions? Donkeys?

No, they weren't. Either.

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We know better ... all of us do. I am surprised in the replies - both the high quality and sincere opinions.

Lions? Donkeys?

No, they weren't. Either.

Andy,

Your point is exactly what I was trying to make when I quoted from the Preface.

We've all worked within teams and we know we need leaders and followers.All roles can be interchanged.

What is so different when we look at WW1?I agree intially, Officers were born,trained to lead but as the War progressed many Men rose from the Ranks to become Officers.Did these Men immediately become Lions and have little regard for the Donkeys?

I accept, when considering the High Command there may be Lion tendency but even they must have known,however grandiose the plan, you needed teams to carry them through.

From my reading I accept there was a gulf between Officers and Men in the British Army in WW1 and it still existed in my time but it was fostered and I don't think taken too seriously.Officer's took a genuine interest in welfare and this extended to their Wife's interst in OR's Families.

From my understanding of the organization of the ANZAC and Canadian Forces in WW1 the Lion/Donkey gulf was frowned upon.

Geoege

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So far as ORs were concerned, the working class boy would probably have left school at 10 or so, at least for half time work at unskilled labour. I imagine that most, not all, ORs would be from the working class but I am surprised at how often their letters indicate a level of culture and literary skill higher than expected. Or did only the cultured ones write? I don`t know. Were most soldiers literate? Phil B

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Hello

I have just done a quick google on DeGroot and it transpires that it is not the Captain DeGroot referred to in previous posts but an academic, Gerard J DeGroot.

Blighty : British society in the era of the Great War, Longman, 1996

From what I can glean from the reviews,the book is deliberately iconoclastic in challenging the 'orthodoxies' on subjects ranging from the mobilisation of women, labour unrest, class relations etc. The inversion of 'Lions led by Donkeys' was deliberate and part of the iconoclastic re-write.

It would also appear that he has written a similar book on America and the Vietnam War 'debunking' all those that had passed before him.

Regards

Mel

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