This Week’s War: 128

Aside

“The history of Austro-Serbian relations is the record of a prolonged struggle between the forces of autocracy and democracy, oppression and freedom…. The real “Provocation by Serbia” was a praise worthy yearning after the blessings of a free and independant exsistence”.

(In reference to the ‘German Note to Neutral Powers relative to the Entente Reply to the Peace Proposals, January 11, 1917’)
Crawfurd Price, The Dawn of Armageddon, or “The Provocation by Serbia” (vide German Note to Neutrals, Jan 11, 1917), pp. 3, 67 [S/D525 (P.C 13)].

This week’s war: 119.

Aside

[In Germany] we are represented as the Power which is anxious to continue the war and to prevent the possibility either of a separate or a general peace. […] It is difficult for us here to imagine that this can be regarded as a plausible or even a credible hypothesis – for us, who know with much bitter knowledge what the war actually means to us day by day […]. Who has greater reason than we have t long and to pray for peace?

 

Peace, yes; but on one condition only – that the war with its waste and sacrifices, its untold sufferings, its glorious and undying examples of courage and unselfishness – shall not have been in vain. [T]he peace when it comes must be…a free future for all the world.

9th November 1916. A Free Future for the World. A Speech by the Rt. Hon. H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister, at the Guildhall, on the 9th November, 1916. [SPEC S/D525 (P.C.128)]. This week’s war: 119.

This week’s war: 107

Aside

Women of every station…have proved themselves able to undertake work which before the War was regarded as solely the province of men, and often of skilled men alone. Indeed, it is not too much to say that our Armies have been saved and victory assured largely by the women in the munition factories […]. I ask the House to consider this, together with the work done by women in hospitals, in agriculture, in transport trades, and in every type of clerical occupation, and I would respectfully submit, when time and occasion offer, it will be opportune to ask: where is the man, now, who would deny to women the civil rights which she has earned by hard work?

15 August 1916. Extract from ‘The Means of Victory. A Speech delivered by The Rt. Hon. Edwin Montagu, M.P., Minister of Munitions, on the 15th August, 1916’, pp. 45-6 [SPEC S/D 525 (P.C. 170)]. This week’s war: 107.

This week’s war: 106

Aside

Practiced [sic] miniature attack, getting back to camp at 12.30, when the news that the Battalion was going up the line this evening was imparted to us by an officer.

[…]

Moved off at about 5.30 pm and marched some miles over sticky clay – terrible going. Passed many parties of war-torn tommies.

Suddenly the company came under heavy shell fire, most of the boys getting the ‘wind up’. I got a bit windy after the fourth shell. Many dropped only about 20 yards from us. The ‘Coy’ was placed in dug-outs and then moved to trenches, finally being placed in original dug-outs. The one into which I got with eight others was filthy, and I spent a most miserable night. I was very damp and cold.

14th August 1916. Extract from the last full diary entry of Lance-Corporal Eric Peppiette of the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, and former University of Liverpool Library Assistant [SPEC S/D 640.P42.T23]. This week’s war: 106.

This week’s war: 105

Aside

Bank Holiday Monday. Two years ago I spent a week-end with my brother and some scouts under canvas just for the enjoyment of it. Now I sleep like an animal, and feed like one, in a cattle-shed in France and not from choice. Were I doing this for pleasure it would be a rare adventure.

7th August 1916. Extract from the diary of Lance-Corporal Eric Peppiette of the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, and former University of Liverpool Library Assistant [SPEC S/D 640.P42.T23]. This week’s war: 105.

This week’s war: 103

Aside

Let us…pray for those who are still holding the firing lie on the field of battle. Remember that, even at this moment, while I am speaking to you, some of them are in the agony of death. The prospect of eternity stretches out before them.

[…]

“Our soldiers are our masters,” wrote a French Academician yesterday, “they are our leaders, our teachers, our judges, our supporters, our true friends; let us be worthy of them, let us imitate them, so that we may not do less than our duty; they are always ready to do more than their own.”

21st July 1916. ‘For our soldiers! Address given by His Eminence Cardinal Mercier on the day of the National Fete, July 21st, 1916, at Sainte Gudule, Brussels’. [SPEC S/D525 (P.C. 168)]. This week’s war: 103.

This week’s war: 102

Aside

Here is a little picture of life in a German dug-out near the British lines, written by a man now dead.

“The telephone bell rings. […] Thus the night is interrupted, and now they come, alarm messages, one after the other, each more terrifying than the other, of enormous losses through the bombs and shells of the enemy, of huge masses of troops advancing upon us, of all possible possibilities, such as  a man broken down and tortured by the terrors of the day can invent. Our nerves quiver. We clench our teeth. None of us can forget the horrors of the night.”

[Account of July 1916]. Extract from The Germans on the Somme, by Philip Gibbs, published 1917. [SPEC S/D525 (P.C. 67)]. This week’s war: 102.

This week’s war: 100

This week marks the centenary of the one hundredth week of fighting in the First World War. At this point, hopes of an early curtailment might well have rescinded in the face of the on-going reality.

It seems appropriate at this point to break from the customary format of our This Week’s War asides with a closer look at the source materials.

We are fortunate to have a range of sources, both primary and secondary, to draw upon each week. This, we hope, enables us to capture poignant and pertinent images of the war as experienced by those both on the frontline and watching events unfold at a distance.

Of the former category is a letter from the Cunard Shipping Line archive. Captain W. Turner captained the Cunard vessel RMS Lusitania for what was to be its final voyage, during which it was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915. In a letter to a Miss Brayton, dated 10 June 1915, Turner expresses his sorrow and regret over the loss of life:

I am thankful to say that I have not felt any bad effects from my terrible experience, but I grieve for all the poor innocent people that lost their lives and for those that are left to mourn their dear ones loss. Please excuse me saying more,  because I hate to think or speak of it.

[D42/PR13/29]

His request that Miss Brayton pardon his brevity is an indication of the horror experienced by those who bore witness to the disaster first-hand.

Primary sources offering the home front perspective include the letters of former University of Liverpool Librarian John Sampson, whose letters to his wife, Margaret, detail the correspondence he receives from his son Michael, serving with the British military, along with Sampson’s own reflections on this familial connection to geographically distal events. In May 1916 Sampson writes to his wife:

It was a surprise and a little shock to get Mick’s line this morning saying that he is indeed “overseas”. I thought it would come. It is hard to realize exactly how one feels about it. If one says, “It is a happy thing and a relief that Mick’s ability and application which got him his ‘D’, should now, without his seeking for it or anything outside the immediate duty, carry its reward by setting him free from the chances of war that wait far less happy and gifted boys”, it is only putting one side of the case. And one’s mind, once made up, is made up to all. I hope that he will be spared. But whatever comes Mick will have done well.

[John Sampson Archive: SP8/1/2/11/39]

 

DSCF8701

Letters from John Sampson to his wife, Margaret Sampson.

An alternative account of wartime Britain is recorded in the diaries of John Bruce Glasier, socialist and pacifist. This account offers no jingoism or appetite for the war. Rather, Glasier documents his and his associates’ political activities (Glasier and his wife, Katharine, were founder members of the Independent Labour Party in 1893) along with the struggles faced by conscientious objectors. From December 1915:

Mr Asquith has decided to bring in a bill to conscript the unmarried men who have not “attested” under Lord Derby’s scheme. This is a thunderbolt. We all believed that the Derby scheme had at any rate indefinitely postponed conscription. The thought of Britain having recourse to this worst of all tyrannies, makes me sick at heart.

[Glasier Papers GP2/1/22]

Though they cannot be mined for quotations, these diaries’ blank spaces are almost as poignant as the entries themselves. Glasier was in very poor health, and many of his entries reveal just how badly his health had declined and how much discomfort he was in by mid-1916. Often such entries are followed by prolonged periods where he does not write, and the present-day reader can only wonder whether he lacked the physical strength or motivation to record his experiences.

Diary accounts.

Diary accounts.

The collection of First World War pamphlets has augmented the series with excerpts of secondary narratives, reports of media commentary, and propagandising from both sides. Of especial interest is the series of Foreign Intelligence reports, which bear the express warning that their contents are top secret. One such report from December 1915 publishes an exhortation, printed in the German publication Zukunft, for German citizens to recognise the strength of the Allied Forces’ conviction, and the inevitability of a protracted and bloody war of attrition:

Not one of our enemies has laid down his arms. Not one is discouraged, no one doubts the final victory, and they are all determined to make every effort to obtain it. It will, therefore, be a war of exhaustion of which no human eye can see the end. All Germans must be made to understand this.

[POV X 44.11.6(1)]

The autograph diaries of Alfred Osten Walker, President of the Liverpool Biological Society from 1892-3, demonstrate the disjuncture between the daily routine and the interpositions of the war. Walker’s entries juxtapose the military and the mundane, reflecting the war as experienced by those whose frontline experience came vicariously through press and officialdom. An entry from October 1915 reads:

Mrs Bonasted called p.m. and had a game of G.C. Rather dull and foggy. Wind W.

Heard that a Zeppelin on Wednesday night dropped a bomb on a camp of Canadians at Sellindge and killed 12.

[Liverpool University Library Manuscripts LUL MS9 1915]

Manuscripts, of course, frequently present the additional challenge of deciphering the author’s handwriting. Such was the palaeographical challenge with the military service diary of former University of Liverpool professor, Charles Wells:

The frequently inscrutable handwriting of Professor Charles Wells…

Events which the intervening years have elevated to especial infamy – the sinking of the Lusitania, the Battle of Jutland, the Act of Parliament enforcing military conscription, or the horror of the Somme trenches –  are typically easier to source quotations for, given the flurry of contemporaneous news reportage and commentary each provoked. These events become the points of entry in to the archives and printed collections, while periods of lesser historical infamy are accessible through more generic war-related keywords combined with a date range.

From a professional perspective, to find a pithy remark encapsulating one of the most infamous events in twentieth-century military history is incredibly satisfying. From a human perspective, it is sometimes slightly disconcerting. These events are brought to life; they shown to be far more than points on a textbook timeline.

This week’s war: 99

Aside

[…] Great Britain is at this moment not thinking of peace. That small section of the British people which is in favour of peace is no larger than it was a year ago; it is almost unrepresented in Parliament, and for all practical purposes of government it may be said to be negligible.

[…]

[T]he German Chancellor…appears to think that the Entente Powers, having failed as yet to be the conquerors, are accordingly the conquered, and that it is for them to sue for peace. The answer to this claim is ludicrously simple. It is this – The Entente Powers do not accept the view that they are conquered.

[…]

If by some miracle every Entente gun and every Entente soldier were swept out of existence tomorrow, it would still be for the Entente Fleets, at their good pleasure to determine whether a single German merchant vessel should issue from the Heliogoland Bight. They could wither the whole growth of German oversea trade at the root, and put the clock back for Germany to the days more than half a century ago when Germany was a purely agricultural country.

 

When the consciousness of these things has been brought home to the German people and their rulers, as it will be, they will perhaps be ready to suggest terms which the Powers of the Entente can accept.

June 1916. Excerpts from ‘The One Condition of Peace by Sir Edward Goschen, formerly British Ambassador at Berlin’. Article originally published in The Times, 23rd June 1916. [SPEC S/D525 (P.C. 34)]. This week’s war: 99.

This week’s war: 98

Aside

On May 21st, 1915, Dr. Kramarzh, the leader of the Young Czechs – the historic Czech party in the Austrian Parliament – was arrested on a charge of high treason.

[…]

Appeals for moderation fell on deaf ears. On December 9th, 1915, the official announcement was made in the Austrian Press of the confiscation of Dr. Kramarzh’s property, and on June 3rd, 1916, of his having been sentenced to death by court martial. […] It is political murder committed by a Government. If it is carried out – and there is still some hope that it may not be – one more Czech martyr will be added to the long list which extends through a stretch of many centuries. But in Dr. Kramarzh there would die at the hands of the Austrian-German Government clique, not merely a Czech patriot, but also a dreamer of a free Austria.

June 1916. Excerpts from ‘The Political Murder of Dr. Kramarzh’, Chapter I of Austrian terrorism in Bohemia. Chapter originally published in The New Statesman, 17th June 1916. [SPEC S/D525 (P.C. 114)]. This week’s war: 98.