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on 31 March 2017
Well researched and sourced, interesting & informative, a factual and a cold blooded view of WW1.
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on 22 August 2017
Excellent book. Gordon Corrigan has opened my eyes to the reality of WW1.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 November 2007
Whilst most military historians adopt a somewhat holier than thou approach to the serious subject matter of war, Mr Corrigan views history as something to be imparted via a veneer of humour. Whilst this does not detract in anyway, shape or form the topic it does add a degree of originality to his writing.
As such, 'Mud, Blood and Poppycock' fairly races along with all the speed of Red Rum glimpsing the finishing line!
I especially enjoyed Mr Corrigans description of the British Army's need to dispense of its 'dirty water'.
What a great read this turned out to be.
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on 15 September 2016
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on 22 July 2004
This is clearly one of those books that should be re-read once in a while to remind us of all the poppycock that surrounds The Great War. I would even suggest it should be made reading material in schools.
Mr. Corrigan has written a book that does not bore by having the right mixture of History, anecdotes and hard statistics; thus giving everyone something to think about. The accounts of the main battles have been told many times before, all the anecdotes have been recorded somewhere else, and the statistics are surely available for those really interested in digging them up; but in this book we get the three of them in a harmonious lot that manages to make tables and lists part of a continuous story instead of breaks in the narrative as in other historical books.
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on 25 November 2007
Nearly a century after it started, the First World War continues to provoke major debates among historians. One major and rather popular contention has been that it was a futile war, fought by incompetent generals, who were happy to cover their shortcomings and sheer lack of imagination by feeding more and more men into the hellish mincing machine of the Western Front. In the classic description of the British Army by German General Hoffmann, the British Army were "lions led by donkeys". This was typified by "The Donkeys" of Alan Clark.

However, a cursory reading of WW1 histories reveals that, while there was indeed incompetence and lack of imagination in plenty (on both sides), things were never this simple. A long time ago, John Terraine pointed out that WW1 was unique in that, for the only time in history (a) armies were so big that a commander could not see the whole battlefield, and (b) there was no way of effective communication with the army. Thus, once an attack was set in motion, there was no way to control it, or even to stop it if it went wrong. More recently, Niall Ferguson has pointed out that, contrary to popular myth, many soldiers had a "good" war, and even enjoyed the experience.

Both sides were operating in completely unknown territory; they had envisioned a war of movement, with the outflanking movements beloved of generals since before Alexander (just look at the Schlieffen Plan), and both were taken by surprise when they found themselves stuck in a version of siege warfare in which outflanking was impossible, apart from attacking somewhere else entirely (e.g. Gallipoli). So, when your enemy digs in and goes completely on the defensive and his flank can't be turned, your options are limited. The British Army in particular, a tiny regular force (Bismarck famously said that, if it ever invaded Germany, he'd have the Berlin Police arrest it), had to adapt to a situation that it could never have imagined and for which it was not at all prepared. And it had to expand enormously to do it.

Gordon Corrigan's point of view can be summarised in the following sentences from his closing chapter:

"In this book I have tried to show that the Great War of 1914 to 1918 was a just war, which Britain was right to join...The New Army's first encounter with all-out war on the Somme was inevitably shocking. The Army learned, and improved continuously as time went on... Haig and the general may not have been the best team that the British Army has ever produced, but they were pretty good and did their best with what they had in a war whose like had never been contemplated."

This provocatively-titled book thus seeks to present the case for the defence of the war (so to speak), that it was necessary to fight it and that, given the circumstances, the British High Command made as good a fist of it as could be expected. Much of this ground has been covered before, but Mr. Corrigan brings it all together in a rather well and clearly presented summary. Moreover, he says that Hoffmann's "lions led by donkeys" was never uttered by Hoffmann at all, but invented by a British journalist!

So, how does he do? In my estimation, quite well. Of course, Corrigan, a former soldier, sees the war through soldier's eyes and one wonders whether he perhaps feels the need to stick up for the soldiers (he is scathing about the interfering politicians, especially Lloyd George). So, one can't help wondering whether there are things that he doesn't mention. For example, initially he attacks the myths very aggressively. However, when it comes to the Somme, the first day of which was described by someone as "the greatest British military disaster since the Battle of Hastings", the tone changes and is more careful, almost as if he feels the need to build his case very carefully. And at this point, one wonders whether he is telling everything. Although he dismisses the 60lb packs allegedly carried at the Somme as a myth, he is silent as to the "slow walk", in orderly ranks, across the battlefield, in a manner that would have been fine at Waterloo, where there didn't happen to be machine guns.

One myth that it is good to see despatched is the contribution of the USA. Popularly dismissed as too little, too late to have any real effect, Corrigan shows that the doughboys made an enormous contribution to victory. The Allies may have won the war without the entry of the USA, but it would have taken a lot longer and cost even more lives. The Americans had to learn some hard lessons very quickly, but they benefitted from the experience of the Allies and very quickly became a highly effective fighting force and an essential part of the hammer blows which made even Ludendorff (mistakenly rendered as "von Ludendorff") realise that the game was up. The US contribution to the Great War is largely forgotten, even in the USA (at the time of writing, I believe that there is only one old doughboy left), and it's good to see it remembered.

So, all in all, apart from minor shortcomings, this short volume adds an interesting perspective to a war that is now just on the fringes of living memory, and, whether you agree with it or not (and I confess to reservations, which may just be my ignorance talking) is well worth reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 December 2013
This is a readable book, an enjoyable one and, particularly with the author's "inside knowledge" of army ways, an enlightening one. However, it does need to be treated with a degree of caution, as a number of other reviewers have pointed out. The generals of WWI were neither (on the whole) butchers & bunglers, nor blameless professionals. Fighting a war no-one had ever fought before, without the tools to properly control the enormous armies they commanded, without even the information to really know what was happening in any reasonably immediate timeframe, they did the best they could.

Gordon Corrigan, unfortunately, in his efforts to redress the condemnatory "donkeys" histories of the 50's, 60's, & 70's, goes too far & ends up whitewashing mistakes & stupidity. It's no more a convincing argument than those of the opposite camp; the truth lies somewhere in between. The author's scholarship can be called into question (and has been); his partiality is obvious & beyond doubt. Therefore, whilst this is a useful counterweight to the more prevalent "bunglers" view of WWI, it shouldn't be taken as gospel. A good book, but one that should be mined for nuggets, rather than blindly accepted.
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on 12 April 2012
Despite the overwhelming weight of evidence to the contrary, still the public perception of Britain and the Great War, is "Lions led by Donkeys", a myth perpetuated by popular culture (such as `Oh What a Lovely War' and `Blackadder Goes Forth'), but one which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history long ago.

Historians, including Corelli Barnett, Niall Ferguson, Richard Holmes, John Keegan, Huw Strachan and John Terraine, have destroyed this myth academically, but it still exists outside the realms of more serious study. In Mud, Blood and Poppycock, Gordon Corrigan attempts to overturn the public perception and bring the arguments of these historians together in a single, accessible volume.

Corrigan has his own style - at times he can be stuffy and he does try too hard to introduce a little humour. As a former soldier, he is scathing about the interfering politicians, especially Lloyd George (and his follow-up book, Blood, Sweat and Arrogance attacks what he sees as the `myths of Churchill's War').

The central theme to his thesis is summed up in the final chapter, where Corrigan has "tried to show that the Great War of 1914 to 1918 was a just war, which Britain was right to join...The New Army's first encounter with all-out war on the Somme was inevitably shocking. The Army learned, and improved continuously as time went on... Haig and the generals may not have been the best team that the British Army has ever produced, but they were pretty good and did their best with what they had in a war whose like had never been contemplated."

Whilst agreeing with his arguments, I do feel that it would carry even more weight if he countered evidence contrary to his thesis instead of simply ignoring it and leaving himself open to accusations of being biased.

Whilst it is not as good a study as Gary Sheffield's Forgotten Victory, it is, nevertheless, very readable. I enjoyed it and would have no hesitation in recommending Mud, Blood and Poppycock, especially as an introduction to what another reviewer succinctly termed the "revisionist cause".
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on 30 August 2014
This is a long review. Please click “read more” and read through to the end. Amazon is, at the time of writing, wanting to know if a book is a“verified purchase”: I shall make reference to pages in my 2003 edition paperback as proof I have actually read the book.

Just how many books on WW1 does a country actually need ? In order to answer this question, I shall first ask a few more. When you want to know about biology, do you go to a painter and decorator ? No, of course not. When you want to know about cookery, do you use a Haynes car repair manual ? No, of course not. When you want a good read, do you pick up a telephone directory (far too many people, absolutely no plot !) ? No, of course not.

So, why is it that when people want to find out about military history, it seems that any jobbing historian will do ? Or, more to the point, why is it that military history books written by military historians, and especially ex-soldiers / lecturers at Sandhurst, are deemed by some (too many ?) to be irredeemably biassed, subjective and defensive ? As one has acknowledged in the previous paragraph, when one wants to know about a subject, one goes to the specialists. Except, it seems, when it comes to WW1.

The history of how WW1 has been represented and perceived is admirably covered in Dan Todman’s “The Great War”. What comes out from this is how much the British general public’s impressions of WW1 are formed by anything other than reputable, fact filled history books from specialist military historians. The very place one would have expected people to go.

The view of WW1 as avoidable, ineptly run, industrial slaughter, rain, mud, and ultimately pointless because it was followed soon after by WW2, is formally know as the “myth” of WW1. “Myth” here means ‘powerful story’, it does not mean ‘fairy tale’. It is informally known as the ‘Blackadder’ view of history after the BBC comedy series “Blackadder goes Forth”.

The problem with WW1 is that the mythology is in danger of killing off historical truth. The second problem is that those who prefer historical truth to the myth are treated as if they are mentally defective, if that’s not putting it too strongly, written off as ‘revisionists’ who are trying to re-write history.

But it wasn’t those who start their history with facts / found objects / evidence, then go through analysis, and then to evaluation, to finally presentation, who re-wrote history to come up with the myth. The current view can be reasonably accurately placed as beginning with Alan Clark’s book “The Donkeys”, going through Joan Littlewood’s “Oh, what a Lovely War !” and the late David Attenborough’s film of same, to the BBC’s 1964 documentary “The Great War”, to A J P Taylor’s 1965 “The First World War: An Illustrated History”, to Paul Fussell’s “The Great War and Modern Memory”, to Alan Bleasdale’s “The Monocled Mutineer”, and finally “Blackadder”.

The problem here is that they’re all biassed. Alan Clark lied in his book. This is not an opinion: he admitted he did so when pressed by ‘proper’ historians to provide evidence for his source(s). He admitted making stuff up to write a deliberately provocative book to kick-start his career. Please do your own research to find this out as true for yourself. Similarly, Joan Littlewood was very dictatorial ion the way she wanted to use WW1 to express her own political prejudices and personal fears about nuclear devastation by deliberately portraying military people as stupid. The historical advisor, Raymond Fletcher, was later outed as a Communist spy ! Obviously this play / film is an unbiased source ! To begin your research, start with Nigel Hawthorne’s autobigraphy “Straight Face”. During the making of “The Great War” Liddell Hart refused to have anyhting to do with a balanced documentary, and Terraine (who wanted a balanced documentary) left ! And so on through all of the above ...

Surely it is these people, stitching together any old out-of-context fact with lots of opinion, not questioning their biasses but actually starting with their prejudices and imposing them upon the data, creating deliberately politically and historically biassed works, who are the true revisionists, not those historians with integrity who start with what actually happened and allow the data to lead them to their conclusions. The “put the emphasis back on the historical facts”-ists, if you will.

It seems very strange to me that the Great British public would rather read, watch, listen to extremely biassed sources that tell them what they already know / want to hear, based upon sentimental emotionalism, pre-existing, private, political prejudices, than actually behave like sensible, mature, grown-up human beings with genuinely receptive, eager to learn minds, able and willing to have their pre- and mis-conceptions not only challenged but actively seeking to correct those pre- and mis-conceptions.

One only has to read the vitriol from other reviewers of this book to know that the myth is a sacred cow that will not be sacrificed, even in the name of getting things right and historical truth.

Mr Corrigan’s sins appear to be a) that he has the temerity to start with original sources, those tedious and highly ignorable things called historical facts rather than a pre-existing emotional opinion that WW1 was a muddy, bloody waste of time, b) to have a military background, rather than being any old jobbing author cashing in on the bandwagon (okay, very mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean), and c) to be a military historian rather than ditto the bandwagon.

The differences between the myth and what actually happened would fill a book, in fact, this very book I am reviewing ! For example, the food was 4,100 calories per soldier per day, because an army marches on it stomach (p97); Haig wanted new tactics (p291); you were more likely to die in the Battle for Normandy in 1944 than on the Somme in 1916 (p298); how and why the British artillery was of the wrong type (p108); and so on.

This book does not set up straw men to know down, but tackles all of the aspects of the mythology of WW1 so glibly repeated, but very rarely questioned or checked, from the accusations of mass ill-treatment of the shell-shocked, to how the tactics radically changed (there wasn’t a pre-emptive airborne ground-attack strike, there weren’t Mk VIII tanks supported by Whippet light tanks, the troops weren’t lined up behind the Mk VIII’s), and so on. (As an aside, this aircraft, tanks, troops tactics was nicked by Erwin Rommel and became ‘blitzkrieg’, and a modified form was used very successfully on D-day, troops advancing behind specialised tanks nick-named ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. So, if the BEF was so inept, how come we won, and how come we came up with such a good tactic ?)

This is not an easy read for the closed- or narrow-minded who wish to cling to their comfort blanket ideologies, believing that 2+2=5, the sky is tartan, and today is Scringe the thirty-fourth of Wibble, for yes, the mythology really is that divorced from reality. It is, however, a very necessary read for anyone who wants to do their history properly, starting with facts as mediated through, and explained by, a suitably qualified expert.

You were, after all dear review reader, willing and able at the beginning of this review to accept that if one wants to now the truth, an appropriately qualified expert was the correct and proper place to go. It is not good that a) so many people have written so many ill-informed, scabrous reviews of this book, and b) it is not in the best-seller lists. It is very worrying that the Great British public can not be weaned off the “myth” and re-focussed on historical truths, however uncomfortable they may be.

Please buy and read this book with a grown-up attitude, able and willing to admit to yourself that what you think you know is actually very, very wrong. Please allow yourself to be positively changed for the better, to be better informed, more discerning, and more able to tell historical truth from anachronsitically applied inventions from the ‘revisionists’ such as Liddell Hart, Littlewood, Ben Elton, Bleasdale, and etc.
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on 6 June 2016
An outstanding book, exceptionally well-referenced, by an author who knows through practical military experience and knowledge of military history exactly what he's talking about.

A great antidote to the nonsense fed to us by 'received opinion'.
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