Soldiers During the First World War

The following sample essay on Soldiers during the First World War may have felt that their Generals and Commanders just ordered them around and never helped in the actual fighting and the battles of the First World War. They may have felt angry and frustrated because of this. However the General’s job was to teach and order soldiers how to fight and why to fight for their country, and not to go to war and have the possibility of dieing.

Other soldiers may have felt some respect for the General’s as they have already provided service to their country, and felt the need to obey them. Source A is from the British magazine called “Punch”. It shows us a cartoon of a General addressing his man in a rehearsal before an attack behind enemy lines. Beneath the cartoon is a dialogue box that illustrates what is happening in the picture explaining that the Major General is saying that there are three essential differences between the rehearsal and the real thing.

This is a quote take from the extract including the main punch line and explanation of the cartoon; “‘There are three essential differences. First, the absence of the enemy. Now (turning to the Regimental Sergeant-Major) what is the second difference? ” “The absence of the General, Sir”‘. This suggests that the British magazines view of soldiers attitudes towards their Generals was that they felt abandoned and unjust because the commanders won’t be joining them in battle, but also that the man expects that their commanders not to be in an attack with them.

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The purpose of the cartoon was to show and give the message to the British public about the attitudes of British soldiers.

This source is not very useful to a historian studying attitudes of British soldiers to their commanders during the First World War because it is form a British magazine and not is not an actual written reference. Also it has no factual evidence that it happened and is only a matter of the person who drew its point of view. However there is fictional dialogue from a soldier talking to his commander, which has probably tried to be accurate even though it is through the cartoonist’s point of view. Source B is from the TV show ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ from the BBC. It tells us that the character Captain Blackadder is sarcastically telling his fellow men about what is going to happen to them. He says that the General ‘Insanity’ Melchitt invites them to a mass slaughter.

This shows that Captain Blackadder feels that the General is insane in sending them out to battle which will ultimately end up in death. Also it quotes “We’re going over the top… after sitting here since Christmas 1914, during which millions of men have died and we’ve advanced no further than an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping. This suggests that the soldier’s attitude (in this case Captain Blackadder) towards their commander is that he feels that the war is pointless and they haven’t moved anywhere at all due to the General’s decision making. It uses this language and context because it is taken from a comedy programme about the First World War. The purpose of the programme and the extract was to show the attitudes of soldiers in the First World War towards their commanders in a comical way.

This source is quite useful to a historian studying attitudes of British soldiers to their commanders during the First World War because it is from a trusted and well known and respected source in Britain (The BBC). On the other hand it has fictional context and is supposed to be a comedy show which probably exaggerates the truth and is sarcastic. Source C is from a quote in the newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, November 1998 written by the son of Field Marshal General Haig, Earl Haig.

It tells us that Earl thinks its time that his father should be praised and given credit for his role and job and the victories he achieved in the First World War. It says that he thinks he was one of the greatest men in the twentieth century and not a callous, uncaring man when in fact he was a very humane man. He also says “When the old soldiers who fought in the war were alive, I never heard a word of criticism from them. It is in more recent times that it has come”. This tells us that he heard that nothing was said about his father until more recent times instead of from the people who were actually in the war.

This shows its problems because people might have lied to him and agreeing with him that his father was doing the right thing. It then later says that many of the people who pour scorn his father and the way of the war don’t know the first thing about it and that serious historians are now coming to the view that the war had to be fought to end it. This suggests that he thinks that historians now know why it had to be fought that way and people cannot judge what happened without strong evidence that they do. The message he is trying to put across is that his father did the right thing and if historians want to know the real views about soldiers attitudes towards their commanders, they should listen to him because he is his son and has heard from people who fought in the war there views on his father.

This source is very useful to a historian studying the attitudes of British soldiers to their commanders during the First World War because it is from a respect broadsheet newspaper and is an extract from General Haig’s son. This helps because obviously General Haig’s son would know a lot more about his won father’s characteristics and ideas more than most people. It has lots of dialogue and is a serious account. It actually states about the soldiers views and attitudes towards their commanders. However it is slightly biased because it is written by General Haig’s son, which does mean that his son could be backing up and supporting his father and possibly lying to the newspaper in order to back up his father, who he respects. In conclusion, sources A to C are useful to a historian studying the attitudes of soldiers to their commanders in World War One because they all show in some way, the views of soldiers on their commanders.

Source C is most useful to a historian because it is the most reliable source out of the 3 and contains more facts than the other two. Source A is limited to historians because it is a picture with speech written underneath about one person’s view on soldiers attitudes towards their commanders. They all have uses to historians as they are all very different and can all be used for historians studying the attitudes of soldiers to their commanders in World War One. General Douglas Haig was Britain’s commander-in-chief during the Somme battle and took much criticism for the sheer loss of life in this battle. He put his belief into one final mighty push against the Germans to be destroyed in the Somme region of France. The French had been asking for some form of military assistance from the British to help them in their battle with the Germans at Verdun, and so Haig had helped them, thus helping to win World War One.

However different people think different things about General Haig. Some think that he was a skilled soldier like John Keegan whereas others think Haig was reluctant to the consequences of his battle tactics. People criticize him for his belief in the simple advance of infantry troops on enemy lines, which included the loss of 20,000 allied soldiers killed on day one and 40,000 injured making it the bloodiest day in British military history. Source C is an extract from the British broadsheet newspaper, The Daily Telegraph and was written in November 1998, by the son of Field Marshal General Haig, Earl Haig. It tells us that Earl thinks its time that his father should be praised and given credit for his role and job and the victories he achieved in the First World War. Earl writes “I think the serious historians are now coming to the view that the war had to be fought to the end. ”

This suggests that he believes that some historians are getting the idea of his father wrong and is also persuading historians that the war had to be fought to the end by using the phrase ‘serious historians’. Meaning, those who do not have that view are not serious about the history of his father General Haig. This source therefore does support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because it is a one-sided biased point of view of General Haig, because it is simply from his son who supports his father no matter what others say about him. It is still quite useful though as it does entirely back John Keegan’s view on General Haig because it shows that people who fought in the war never criticised General Haig and it is in more modern times people believe that General Haig was a bad person in the world of the British military.

Source D is a poster which is called ‘Your Country Needs Me’ taken from the book General Haig’s Private War. It shows a caricature of General Haig pointing towards himself mimicking the famous poster of Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam pointing at the person reading it. The poster has the words ‘Your Country needs me… l like a hole in the head – which is what most of you are going to get. ‘ The word ‘me’ is in very large bold letters compared to the other ones to get the point of the poster across to the person viewing it. This suggests that the person who made it believes that General Haig should not be the commander-in-chief for the British army during that point in time because he is leading them towards death and is a mocking General Haig in doing so. It shows us this by General Haig pointing at himself and using the phrase ‘like a hole in the head – which is what most of you are going to get’ showing that the person who drew this poster believes that if you joined General Haig you will almost certainly die.

This source therefore does not support Keegan’s interpretations of Haig.However, this source is not entirely reliable because again it is a one-sided point of view and is produced in a way that is rebellious, comical way which mocks General Haig. Although it is still quite useful because it shows what other people’s views are about General Haig, giving another side to the story. Source E is three different extracts form Haig’s diary showing his own view on the Battle of The Somme and trench warfare. It tells us Haig’s views prior to the Battle of the Somme, the day before the Battle of the Somme and the day of the Battle of the Somme.

Haig’s view in the first extract written prior to the Battle of the Somme in June 1916 is very realistic which says things like “The nation must be taught to bear losses” and “The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists”. This suggests that Haig knew what will happen on the day of the Battle of the Somme, and that it will be a day in which Britain will lose many lives informing people that they should be prepared for what is about to happen. The second extract written on 30th June 1916, the day before the attack began is a very reassuring and generally good message about the soldier’s welfare and mind state.

It says “The men are in splendid spirit” and “The barbed wire has never been so well cut nor the artillery preparation so thorough. ” This suggests Haig is full of confidence and believes he is doing the right thing because of the things soldiers have said about him and has been done in preparation. It gives this impression also by the language and context used in the extract. The final third extract written on the 1st of July 1916, the day of the Battle of the Somme is quite unreliable because it shows almost what is a frightened message written in denial of what is happening.

The extract says that the attack was very successful and everything went like clockwork. This shows some truth because the attack was successful but was also the worst and bloodiest day in British military history and all did definitely not go like clockwork due to the extreme levels of death and what could be said poor battle tactics. It also says “Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence. ” That phrase is very unreliable because General Haig wasn’t even there, therefore he would not know about the soldier’s feelings. This source therefore does support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig.

However, this source is not entirely reliable because it is all written by General Haig himself and in most cases he will be one-sided to support his ideas and the consequences of them, whether the outcome is bad or good. The source does have limited information because General Haig wasn’t there and cannot give a full image and brief of what really is going on. It is still very useful though for John Keegan to back up his interpretations of General Haig as it is written by the man himself, also it gives reliable information like those realistic points of view in the first extract.

Source F is from ‘Great Battles of World War 1’, written by a modern historian, Anthony Livesey, published in 1989. It tells us about how General Haig was silent, humourless and reserved but also was shrewd, ambitious and had great self confidence. It says “Perhaps his greatest failing was his constant, often misplaced optimism, which seemed to stem from his belief that he had been chosen by God to serve his country. ” This shows us that Livesey only wants to suggest his ideas about Haig as a military commander and places ideas about why Haig chose to battle the way he did, and why he never seemed to give up hope.

The last sentence “It was probably this inability to recognise defeat that led to his continuing attacks on the Somme and Passchendaele”, tells us that Livesey has a clear guess at why Haig would continue the attacking in places like Somme to end the war. Overall it is giving both sides of the argument and gives the point of view from a modern historian. This source therefore does and does not support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because these are all probable ideas from one man, and they are his conclusions as of what Haig was and why he did things in the way he did.

It is still quite useful though as it does support Keegan’s interpretations in some ways, but justifies reasons why Haig did things with his misplaced optimism and inability to recognise defeat. This affects the way Keegan’s interpretations of Haig by downgrading the reasons for Haig’s actions. Source G is from the ‘War Memoirs of David Lloyd George’, published after the war and written by the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It tells us that Lloyd George tried to shift the blame over to Haig. It also tells us about the pride he has for his people “The tale of these battles… s the story of the million who would rather die than call themselves cowards – even to themselves”.

This suggests that he is proud to be part of a nation where millions of British people would rather die than call themselves and there nation cowards. The source is very anti Haig/General in the sense that he says “and also the two or three individuals who would rather the million perish than they as leaders should admit, that they were blunderers”. And “My only justification is that Haig promised not to press attack if it became clear that he could not attain his objectives by continuing the offensive.

This suggests that he is trying to shift the blame of the tragedies of the war as Prime Minister over to the leaders of the military, in particular, General Haig. This source therefore does not support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However this source is not entirely reliable because it is written by the British Prime Minister who obviously does not want to make himself look bad and a disgrace to the country, willing enough to blame it on someone else if needs be. It is still quite useful though as it provides the thoughts of the leader of the country and gives some amount of evidence against Keegan’s interpretations.

Source H is an extract from the official biography ‘Haig’, by Duff Cooper. Cooper was asked by Haig’s family to write this book. It tells us that there can surely be only one opinion which is, if Haig refused to fight then it would of meant the abandonment of Verdun to its fate and the breakdown of co-operation with the French. This suggests that Cooper thinks that Haig had to give battle on Somme and that it is the only opinion of Haig and the Battle of the Somme. This source therefore does support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because Cooper may be linked to the Haig family if they asked him to write it, because of his views on Haig and the battles he commanded, showing that the source is slightly biased.

It is still quite useful though as it is positive evidence towards John Keegan’s interpretations and it is also reliable because it is from the official biography of General Haig, which gives yet another view about Haig’s actions. Source J is from The Times, a well known British broadsheet newspaper.It was written on the 10th May 1917 (after the Somme) and contains a one column article from the Rheinisch – Westfalische Zeitung which is a German newspaper. It tells us that it is a German tribute to Sir D. Haig. This source is very pro German and constantly but discretely tries to offend Great Britain, and England in particular. It says ‘Field-Marshal Haig is certainly one of the ablest generals of contemporary England, and like the majority of able Britons is of Scottish descent”, by saying that the writer is saying that more able British people are usually Scottish, and not English.

This is an example of the Germans offending the English by saying Scotland is more superior. Also it says that he is apparently the best man Great Britain has to set against her enemies, but his energy and eagerness to attack have not proved equal to the German art of defence will certainly make all of Germany very satisfied. This suggests that the British do not have anything to offer that is as good as the German defence making the German people happy because they are suggested better than the British.

This source therefore does not support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because it is written by Germans who will not diminish their country and will make out that the British have nothing worthy against them. It is still quite useful; though as it gives a German point of view and shows what Germany think about Haig, instead of just British points of view. Source K is from an article by S. Warburton published in ‘Hindsight: GCSE Modern History review’ in April 1998. It shows us a balanced account of Haig and clearly showing both sides of the arguments; was Haig ultimately, victorious or did he make a mistake by taking battle on the Somme. It also states that Haig should not be blamed for the failings of the British war efforts, because it puts too much of a burden of guilt on one man, meaning that Warburton feels that Haig was wrongfully accused of the British military failings.

It says “Haig was the product of his time, of his upbringing, education, training and previous military experience. On argument goes that he was, ultimately, victorious and, even if he had been replaced, would there have been anyone better for the job? ” This suggests to us that Warburton thinks that Haig was brought up the right way during his time and shows one side of the argument but also hinting that he feels was there really anyone better for the job. This source therefore does support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because it was published in 1998, whereas there is more sufficient evidence in present day.

It is still very useful though as it is written for a GCSE Modern History review book, written by a historian which gives a sense of trust and factual evidence towards Keegan’s interpretations. Source L is an extract from General Haig’s Special Order Of The Day which was issued to every member in the British Armed Forces and written. It tells us about what is expected and what every soldier must follow. It says “Victory will belong to the side that holds out the longest. There is no other course open but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. ” This strongly suggests that General Haig thought that victory will only be received, if the British stuck it out the longest even though there would be many deaths and casualties, there must be no giving up, or backing out and that every man shall hold every position and fight to the end until the enemy is destroyed.

This source therefore does support Keegan’s interpretation of Haig. However, this source is not entirely reliable because it was written by General Haig and therefore biased and was also issued after the bloodiest day in history, the Battle of the Somme. It is still very useful though as it a written document issued to every member in the British Armed Forces by General Haig. This supports Keegan because it is sufficient evidence to back up his interpretations. In conclusion, sources C to L do provide sufficient evidence to support John Keegan’s statement that Haig was a “highly skilled soldier”. Throughout the sources more of them give evidence to back up Keegan’s interpretations than go against them.

Most of the sources do support Keegan’s interpretations because they are written by people involved with Haig or historians. For instance, the quote “Haig was the product of his time, of his upbringing, education, training and previous military experience. On argument goes that he was, ultimately, victorious and, even if he had been replaced, would there have been anyone better for the job? “, is written by a modern historian in a book which informs students at GCSE level about General Haig, and does ultimately support John Keegan’s interpretations.

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Soldiers During the First World War. (2017, Nov 03). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/soldiers-during-the-first-world-war/

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