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On the idle hill of summer (1917 style)

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams

A. E. Housman

Now, in 1917 you might not be able to hear the drums but you might – depending on the proximity between your ear and the ground – be able to hear the drumfire:

The Times 24 August 1917 p9. Right click for full article.

Just in case you were wondering 24 June was in the “lull” between the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is better known.

23 comments to On the idle hill of summer (1917 style)

  • Alisa

    Maybe it took 10 days for the sound waves to travel all the way from France to Sussex?

  • Phil Terry

    He just wanted to brag that he got his “lady friend” to lay-down on the ground with him and they did it “again and again.” Grandma said “it never went on in her day.” Yeah, right Grandma…

  • Joe Hooker

    Does sound like a great way to get your companion to lie down.

  • True, true, but I’m used to “Maud” being a lady’s name.

  • John Galt III

    Wait until France and Germany have 20 to 40% Muslim populations. That should be another fun European
    cluster&uck like WWI if not worse.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Maybe hearing their own heartbeats/bloodflow? I suspect any noise loud enough to be heard through the ground at a hundred or more miles distance would have been recorded by every seismograph in the area, at the very least.

  • pete

    A reminder of the appalling sexism in 1917.

    Men getting blown to bits while women relaxed in the Sussex countryside.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I am fairly sure that Maud is a woman’s name.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Miss Maudie”/”Aunt Maudie” … my Grandma’s best friend.

    Although, I rarely see “Maud”; usually, it’s been “Maude.”


    Did they have Honourables on the distaff side in 1917?

    Heck, what is an Honourable, anyway?

  • bobby b

    “Hon. Maud Ritchie was born on 30 August 1872. She was the daughter of Charles Thomson Ritchie, 1st Baron Ritchie of Dundee and Margaret Ower. She died on 23 November 1958 at age 86, unmarried.” The Peerage.

    I don’t doubt that she died unmarried, after spending her time lying about the hills of Sussex trying to get her female companions to lie down next to her with unlikely stories about listening to French artillery.

  • Bruce

    By 1917, the amount of heavy artillery being used on the western front was stupendous.


    Not to much. The accounts of artillery in action at the (second) Battle of Fromelles are not encouraging. More a case of quantity over quality.

    The Brits had a bit of catching up to do after the “Great Shell Shortages” of 1915 and 1916. Supply and demand, and all that.

    If an artillery shell explodes in the trenches, if there is nobody alive there, does it make a sound?

  • Mr Ed

    Heck, what is an Honourable, anyway?

    Younger son of a Viscount or Earl, sons of Barons, and the respecitve wives thereof, or a daughter of a Baron or Viscount. So no money, no title but a good background. Nowadays children of ‘life peers*’ also get the title as children of barons who are mainly retired or failed poltical hacks. An honourable exception is the Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg.

    * said to be like mules, no pride in ancestry and no hope for posterity.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – there was a “lull”.

    Denis Winter in his work “Haig’s Command” is actually wrong about Plummner’s destruction of Messiness ridge – the Germans had not pulled out leaving only a few men there (as he claims), they had talked about doing that but they had not done that. I think Denis Winter makes the mistake (in reverse) that he condemns in other historians – many historians take the words of Haig and others seriously (they are the “written records” they base their “history” on), and Denis Winter rightly condemns them for not actually checking to see if what Haig and others say is actually the truth (to use old fashioned language Douglas Haig was a “Cad” – nothing he, or his friends, wrote can be trusted). But Denis Winter makes this mistake with GERMAN written records (trusting them), most infamously in his belief that General Lundendoff was a lovely man – Lundendoff was actually an evil (deeply evil – not just a conman “Cad” like Haig) man, but OF COURSE he does not present himself as this in his wartime writing. People do not act in real life as they do in Hollywood films – Lundendorff does not say “my evil plan is as follows….” whilst stroking a white pussy cat, he presents himself in the best possible light. In the case of Messiness the Germans go from saying they considered pulling their men out (quite true – they did), to claiming they actually did so (not true – they did not), and Denis Winter believes them, because he does not check the reality on the ground.

    So the 19 great mines and then the attack were a real success (not just a propaganda thing as Denis Winter claims). However, there is no immediate follow up (Haig forbad an immediate follow up), so the chance to take more than the ridge was lost.

    Of course the most infamous “lull” in British military history (perhaps in the military history of any nation) was the 36 hours after the landing at Suvla Bay in 1915 – the British land some ten thousand men and then do nothing for 36 hours whilst the Turks rush in forces (there had been hardly any Turks in the area at the time of the landing) and build defences. It is vital in any landing from the sea to attack quickly (to get off the beaches and actually take the objectives) – in war “Slow Equals Dead” (SED) – but this is especially true in a landing from the sea.

    Taking the Gallipoli area (or those parts of it that were supposedly necessary to take to allow warships to go through and then sail on to Constantinople to knock the Turks out of the war and link up with the Russians) was not an easy task (certainly not) – but it was not an especially difficult task either. The failure of the Royal Navy and then of the Army showed that the much vaulted reforms of the late 19th and early 20th century had failed – that the British armed forces were not the elite professionals they claimed to be. The ordinary soldiers were brave and so on – but their commanders were, in the main, no good. And this was NAUGHT to do with Douglas Haig – as he was no where near the place, it shows that there was a general lack of real SKILL among British Generals. True “professionalism” is not talking in military jargon – the the reforms of the late 19th and early 20th century had produced an officer class who were brilliant at talking in military jargon (supposedly “scientific” talk – of “Educated Soldiers”) but were bloody awful at getting the job done.

    The late Compton Mackenzie (the writer of “Whiskey Galore” and other works) remembered listening to a Brigadier going on about military doctrine just before the Suvla Bay landings. The Brigadier sounded wonderful – he had been “educated” to talk in the most scientific sounding military jargon, the trouble was (as Mackenzie understood at the time) that what the Brigadier was saying was actually nonsense. Very “educated” nonsense – but still nonsense. Mackenzie wrote up (that night in a letter) his opinion that the operation would be a failure – NOT because it was especially difficult, but because a whole generation of commanders were (mostly) just no good.

    The British officer class in the First World War were not (to use jargon myself) “results orientated” they were “process orientated” – as long as the correct language was used and the correct “scientific” procedures followed, it did not matter if the operation was a horrible failure (they could always blame failure on the politicians – as Civil Servants are unofficially trained to do). This was most infamously shown on July 1st 1916 when 20 thousand British soldiers are killed and 30 thousand wounded (in one day) achieving bugger all – neither Haig nor any of the top commanders killed themselves, they did not even resign. After all they had gone through all the correct bureaucratic procedures and used the correct “scientific” military language at all times – and that is what they had been “educated” to regard as important.

    In short the basic thesis of Denis Winter is right-and-wrong – he is correct that it was not just Haig who was no good (although any Haig defender is beneath contempt), Haig was actually typical of the British commanders of his time (the good British Generals were the exception rather than the rule) – but Winter believes that this was because the British Generals were gentleman amateurs unfit for the modern world (ironically the one gentleman amateur General who springs to mind was actually rather good – the Earl of Cavan) – actually Haig and co were very modern and “educated” men, experts at writing in “scientific” sounding jargon and with all the modern bureaucratic skills in passing the buck and putting on a “professional” defence against anyone who doubted them and the bureaucratic structure they represented.

    Haig and co are best understood as Civil Servants in uniforms. Not actually evil (as Lundendorff and co indeed were), but “Cads” – exports at advancing their own careers and bureaucratic buck passing and “office politics”, rather than commanding battles.

  • The accounts of artillery in action at the (second) Battle of Fromelles are not encouraging. More a case of quantity over quality.

    Zhukov made an interesting remark to Eisenhower after WW2 (I am doing this for memory, I think it might have been in “Crusade in Europe”) that it would have been better for the Soviet army’s artillery arm if they had “half the number of guns but the same amount of ammunition”.

  • fcal

    Paul Marks – Why do you corrupt the name of this German general? His name is Ludendorff and not Lundendorff. It makes your contribution tedious reading.

  • staghounds

    A friend of mine has discovered than mail solicitors think that her title is a name. She regularly gets mail addressed to “Honorable Surname” or starting out “Dear Hon”…

    It’s like Charlie Chan is working for Visa.

  • Brian Swisher

    In one of Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gérard stories (highly recommended), the Brigadier assures us that he has mastered the British system of titles, and confidently introduces the reader to his English friend, “the Hon. Sir Russell Bart.” “This last being a title of nobility, and I shall refer to him as ‘the Bart’, much in the same way I would refer to a Spanish nobleman as ‘the Don'”.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    And they probably think ‘Junior’ is a prolific clan-name!

  • Rich Rostrom

    In Steven Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body, there is a passage which I think was based on a popular story from the time.

    On 3 July 1863, Lee at Gettysburg massed his artillery in an all-out bombardment of the Union center, preparing for Pickett’s Charge. The story is that an old man in Philadelphia, tending his garden at the same time, heard the sound of the cannon fire apparently issuing from his flowers.

    At one o’clock the first signal-gun was fired
    And the solid ground began to be sick anew.
    For two hours then that sickness, the unhushed roar
    Of two hundred and fifty cannon firing like one.

    By Philadelphia, eighty-odd miles away,
    An old man stooped and put his ear to the ground
    And heard that roar, it is said, like the vague sea-clash
    In a hollow conch-shell, there, in his flowerbeds.
    He had planted trumpet-flowers for fifteen years
    But now the flowers were blowing an iron noise
    Through earth itself. He wiped his face on his sleeve
    And tottered back to his house with fear in his eyes.

  • Dr. Toboggan

    Paul Marks – what would you recommend I read to learn about WW1?

  • Paul Marks

    Lucky I came back to this thread – often I do not come back to threads these days, and “Dr. Toboggan” would think me rude for not answering a question I had not seen.

    On Haig – “Haig’s Command” by Denis Winter is very much the case for the prosecution, and I have already pointed out where I think the work is in ERROR. However, it is better than the demented works by John Terraine and others that were presented during my university days. The utter absurdity of the establishment works is hard to overstate.

    On specific theatres of the First World War – the late Colonel Barker is very good on the campaigns against the Ottomans.

    Brigadier Mallinson has recently published a work “Too Important For The Generals” which is rather good – although it feels a bit “rushed”.

    For myself I talked as child (every summer) with many veterans of the First World War – but that option is no longer open to people (as the veterans are dead).

    Montefiore produced a book on the Somme was was quite good – oddly so for someone who (as far as I know) has never killed anyone.

    Even the late Douglas Haig wrote things of use – although not in the way he (and his sickening defenders) meant them to be used.

    Brigadier Mallinson reprints (without comment) General Haig’s 1919 defence of his conduct in the London Gazette.

    It is less than a dozen pages long – and (unintentionally) reveals how Douglas Haig was unfit to be an officer.

    For example in the section titled “Why we attacked whenever possible” General Haig shows a total disregard for the basic axioms of war – indeed for common sense. There is nothing about waiting for the deceive moment for an attack, or what tactics to use make one’s attack more likely to succeed (indeed General Haig appears to be unaware that there is such a thing as infantry tactics). Instead we are given cod “philosophy” – such as “the object of war is victory” and General Haig declares as an “axiom” that “deceive success in battle can only be achieved by vigorous offensive” – undefined rubbish of this kind goes on for pages, and it is actually far more damming in relation to General Haig than anything his opponents have written.

    Brigadier Mallinson does not need to comment on Haig’s 1919 defence of his own conduct (which he gives as Annex C in his 2016 book) – the words of General Haig prove that he was unfit to be an officer (not just unfit to be a commanding general – but unfit for more a junior rank), indeed they reveal a man who was essentially unteachable – someone who should not have been accepted for training as an officer.

    “Why We Attacked Whenever Possible” – even the most junior officer should know (indeed a man picked at random from the street should know – as a matter of “Common Sense”) that one only attacks when there is a reasonable chance of success and that one creates a reasonable chance of success by the use of tactics. Someone who does NOT know this (as the late General Haig, by his own words, clearly did not know) is unfit for even the most junior position of command – and should not promoted above the rank of private soldier.

  • Dr. Toboggan

    Dr. Toboggan wouldn’t think you rude, Paul, Dr. Toboggan understands these things.

    Thank’ee kindly