3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
IT WASN'T POINTLESS,
This review is from: Mons: The Retreat to Victory (Paperback)John Terraine (1923-2001) was a historian who set out to correct various myths which had arisen about the First World War, the most persistent of which is that it was all `pointless'. We still hear this one repeated, regularly, by pacifists.
At the time the War was regarded by vast numbers of people in Britain as `The Great War for Civilisation', which had saved Europe from German militarism (and even barbarism). The family of every man who fell was sent a medallion, which bore the that inscription and the words `He died for Honour and for Freedom' on the other side. (I have one, because my grandfather was killed during the last German offensive of March 1918). Thereafter, the poets and revisionists got to work, culminating in the popular film `Oh What A Lovely War!' which portrayed the whole thing as a futile and bloody shambles. Tell that to the Belgians, who were occupied by the Germans for four years; and tell it to the Russians, who had to submit to a dictated peace in 1917, at Brest-Litovsk.
In a series of books, Terraine attempted to show that there was much truth in the inscription on that medal than we had come to believe. He was the mastermind behind the BBC's brilliant series `The Great War' (1964) and the author of `Douglas Haig, the Educated Soldier' (1963) which attempted to refute the idea that Haig was merely the leading `donkey', in an undistinguished cast of British generals.
`Mons' is now re-published by `Pen & Sword' and this is most welcome. It was first published in 1960. It takes us back to August 1914, before the world learned the meaning of trench warfare and before the War Poets started to spread their insidious messages of defeatism, to a time when the War was still one of movement and battles were unpredictable, though everyone hoped it would all be over by Christmas. It criticises the generals on all sides, but in a moderate and meaningful way. It explains the strategy, in terms we can understand. There are some great anecdotes (for example, of how Sir John French tried to speak French to his opposite number); and the narrative is nicely woven with personal memoirs.
The book marked the first chapter in Terraine's revision of the revisionists. He shows, above all, that the British assisted the French greatly in slowing down the German invasion of France in 1914. Had they not done so, the Schlieffen Plan might well have worked. It might have been 1870 all over again; or to put it another way, it could have been 1940, 25 years early. The French might have been knocked out of the war and the British Army destroyed, with incalculable consequences for Europe and democracy. Make no mistake about it, the Germans were just as much of a threat in 1914 as they were 1939; and, though we no longer like to mention it, they did start both World Wars.
The book is eminently readable, though the maps are not as good as one might have hoped for; and the layman will wish for an explanation of the numbers. (How many troops in a battalion, and how many in a division?)
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Initial post: 16 Jun 2013 15:38:40 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Jun 2013 15:39:48 BDT
C. Nation says:
I wonder if the person who actively voted this reviewer's piece 'not helpful' was making a response to the first two paragraphs and the last sentence of the fifth? If so, they should be ashamed of themselves. Whether you agree or not with his view* the reviewer has reviewed the book well.
*As a guide to the battlefields of the BEF's Western Front sector and engagements, I've come to the same conclusion in my extensive reading and research. Anybody who doubts this conclusion should bear in mind the words of General Pershing in Nov 1918, "If we do not go on to Berlin now, we will have to come back to do this all again."
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