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The first winter in the trenches

Many of you will have noticed that I haven’t been blogging from a hundred years ago as much as I used to. This is mainly because my source material, The Times, isn’t what it used to be. It is much shorter – 16 pages instead of 24 – and much less accurate. In wartime you do not and often cannot know what is going on.

Here, however, we do have an accurate report, from the front line no less:

…it may interest your correspondent to know that we were served out with grease before going up to the trenches on Christmas Eve. I rubbed my legs and feet thoroughly with this and was careful to leave my boots and puttees loose – but I arrived home on January 1 with frostbite in both feet, and am still laid up.

He goes on:

…I was for 36 hours in a trench which was so badly knocked about and fallen in, and had such an ineffective parapet, that it was simply “asking for trouble” to stand in anything like an upright position. The main trench was over knee deep in liquid mud.

Before getting indulging in some light sarcasm:

Our cubby-hole, by the way, had fallen in, and we had no hot shower-baths, stoves, drawing room carpets, or other luxuries which abound in these Aladdin’s-Cave-cum-Ritz-Hotel trenches I have read about in the papers.

The thing that really strikes me about this letter is that it pulls no punches. I have often heard it said that the people at home had no idea what life was like at the front. But if letters like this were getting published on a daily basis I wonder if that’s really true.

The Times 25 January 1915 p9

The Times 25 January 1915 p9

8 comments to The first winter in the trenches

  • staghounds

    Those who cared to know did, the others just picked a vision that fit their prejudices.

    With all our modern digital stuff it’s the same. Plus ca change.

  • staghounds

    The only times that I can think of that the ugliest aspects of war were rather forced on the general public by media have been the late Crimean war in England and the late Vietnam war in the U. S.

    In both, a relatively new news transmission mechanism combined with a desire by the media using them to tell the horror story and a relative exclusivity of information. That trifecta meant that story was pretty much the only one out there.

    In most other historical examples, the patriotic/glory/help the boys win message has been the one the media have generally wanted to tell, or at least have wanted to as much as any other. That’s what the customers generally like to think about the wars being waged for them, and I don’t think that people like to think about horrible things much. So the horror aspect has generally been the province of the soldiers, their intimates, and those who sought that information.

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    Yes, a lot of impropaganda gets told in wars. Makes me wonder what Sauron’s views on The Lord of The Rings War might have been. He might have made a good case for the whole of Middle-Earth being under one ruler, for all we know. We only get the Hobbit’s side of things.

  • Paul Marks

    My own “source material” is long dead – the soldiers I knew as a boy in the Lancing British Legion (I spent every summer in Lancing as a boy), none of these old warriors (including my own grandfather)believed that the war could have been avoided – but they all knew that the it had been managed by idiots (and “idiot”) is a generous description), they are dead now (long dead) and I doubt that their memory (the truth) still lives in England.

    Still in some places (such as Kells over in Ulster – where I sometimes visit) the truth is kept alive.

    I doubt the “official sources” will be much respected next year – when the 100th anniversary of Douglas Haig’s masterpiece is remembered (although the events are remembered every day – without fail – for banners of the Ulster Division are on display).

    One can be a loyal soldier (English or Ulsterman) whilst still treating the “official source” and the academics, with the total and utter contempt they deserve.

    Being prepared to die for the country does not mean being prepared to put up with lying bullshit from it. Such as “the sources”.

  • “The Times, isn’t what it used to be…much less accurate”

    Don’t let that stop you. I would find interesting any comparisons between what was reported at the time and what we later found out to be true.

  • Paul Marks

    The decline in journalism is tragic.

    In previous wars, tactics and strategy were openly debated in the press – in the First World War this stopped.

    When Rupert Murdoch’s father (a totally loyal man) attacked the TACTICS employed in the 1915 campaign against the Ottomans – he was almost sent to prison.

    The collapse of freedom of debate meant that failed tactics were not changed in the war – and guilty commanders were not punished.

    Haig should never have been in a position to get hundreds of thousands of British soldiers killed in 1916 and 1917. He should have been dismissed (in disgrace) after what he did to the two reserve divisions on the second day of the Battle of Loos in 1915.

    But it was considered “unpatriotic” to attack Generals in the press.

    A fatal change in British political culture.

  • Bruce

    They have probably all been sought out and systematically destroyed, but……….

    Hie thee to a library and seek out bound or otherwise copies of “The Illustrated War News”.

    Regular pictures of corpses of all varieties.

    Full of “What, Ho” cheerfulness.

    LOTS of “technical articles.

    All on high-grade,, glossy paper.

    I have a couple of bound “collections”, circa 1915: LOTS of stuff on Gallipoli, the sinking of the “Lusitania”, gas warfare, etc.

    I would guess that most “modern” libraries would have “culled” such documents LONG ago.

    Brit readers may try the IWM or similar.

  • Mr Ed

    The IWM is in the hands of the usual Leftoid drones, rebranded from ‘Imperial War Museum’ to ‘IWM’. It even seems to think that having a Spitting Image puppet of Mrs Thatcher is worthy of exhibition.

    Perhaps a robust government would recommission HMS Belfast and shell the museum to dust (after evacuation, naturally).