Forgotten Victory by Gary Sheffield

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Bradstyley, Mar 31, 2008.

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  1. Anyone read it? Some controversial views on WW1, but I think he argues very well. He came and gave us a lecture on it when I was at university, very interesting bloke...
  2. Looking at the facts, not the PR from the Theatre Workshop is hardly controversial.

    The book is a seriously good read which explodes most of the myths about the Great War which sprang up in the '60s.
  3. Well, its controversial for the reasons that he explains in the books introduction, that if you dare suggest to some people that Haig wasn't a monster and the Army did actually have a clue what it was doing in WW1 they get their knickers in a twist. You are right though, too many peoples image of WW1 comes from a combination of emotionalism, poets like Sassoon and Owen, who, whilst great poets, were not representative at all of the average british soldier's experience, Blackadder goes forth and a bunch of 1930s lefties who had a vested interest in undermining public faith in the 'Establishment'...Most of the criticism of WW1 generals amounts to having a go at them for not being military geniuses of alexander the greats or napoleons stature, as you'd have to have been that clever to come up with the tactical system that won the war without 4 years of experimentation, in earlier or later wars where voice command was possible they may have been Wellingtons or Montgomerys...
  4. There are quite a few good books which debunk the "revisionists" of between the wars-1970s. I can heartily recommend both "Mood blood and poppycock" and "Myths and Legends of the First World War" as eminently readable and very well researched. If you have a few more pennies then The Great War:Myth and Memory" is also very good.
  5. Spot on.

    This book should be required reading.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Also John Terraine's The Smoke and the Fire.
  7. I do wonder which voice is going to be heard in 2014-2018 as we hit the various 100th anniversaries with the inevitable media frenzy. Is it going to the ‘Butcher and Bunglers’, ‘Lions Led by Donkeys’, Blackadder-as-documentary, Joan Littlewood, doomed poets, slaughter of a generation by incompetent port-swilling toffs, etc, etc, one – or is there a chance that Sheffield et al may get a hearing? I reckon we’re in for a lot of myth and very little history (whatever that is).

  8. GCSE coursework for my pupils focuses on "the Haig Debate", and more than a few 6th formers have been sufficiently interested to pursue the matter further in their A level Personal Investigations.

    Popular perceptions will, I think, continue to be shaped by the "Butchers & Bunglers"/ "Oh! What a Lovely War." / war poets consortium for a good many years to come, but in the longer term, a more objective consensus may begin to emerge. There are certainly quite a few bright youngsters/ potential future academic historians who have a very different take on things, and who are much better schooled in the historiographical vagaries of the debate than my generation ("Baby Boomers") ever were.
  9. WM, your comment on the rising generation is hugely encouraging. Gary's book does indeed deserve a very wide audience, and he's had the moral courage to stick to his thesis over the years. Documentary TV crew (from Timewatch?) once trailed after him as he spoke to a group of Sandhurst cadets on the Somme. His suggestion to the effect that Haig wasn't simply an incompetent butcher provoked a heap of hate-mail.

    In 1998, on the 80th anniversary of the end of the war, the Express ran a front page lead calling for Haig's statue in Whitehall to be pulled down. It's probably hoping for too much to think that this won't be repeated in some form, but perhaps with historians of the stature of Richard Holmes and Gary Sheffield making themselves heard, a more balanced debate is also possible.
  10. Sadly it is much easier (and more enjoyable) to read/watch Oh what a lovely war!, than it is to read Haig's diaries!

    That is why the likes of Professor Gary, Peter Barton, Neil Oliver et al are so important. They are academically rigourous but produce readable and interestingly view-pointed works. As do historians like Richard van Emden, who focus on the people but not in isolation. They are all trying to "interpret" primary sources, whilst avoiding twisting history to an ideological or cliquist stance.
  11. I do think that Britain started WW I with the best small army in the world and finished it with the only army capable of winning inside of twelve months.
    From Contemptible (small) to Capable.
  12. Well that is one view...however wide of the mark!
  13. I too understand the Kaiser's comment was mistranslated as "Contemptible little army", and should have been "Contemptibly small army".

    People forget that the Kaiser had connections with various British regiments, and had attended manouevres as a result.
  14. That's what happens when a newspaper is entirely staffed (and mostly read) by mongs.
  15. For what it's worth the Great War Generals took an army of 300,000 men and expanded it to one of nearly 5 million. They took that army into a field that no one had had any conception of before they got there and had to deal with field works, massed artillery and machine guns, chemicals and air. They fought that Army for four years and it never had a major mutiny even though it suffered greivous casualties. Eventually it beat in the field the great German Army.

    Some people call the men that did that fools.