A Missed Opportunity
A book telling how the Great War was reported and how life changed for everyone, at home and in khaki, would be a welcome addition to any library. Regrettably, this curate’s egg of a work doesn’t quite achieve that.
The author prefaces his work with the rather curious statement that, “As with the last book, I must disavow any claim for it being comprehensive or authoritatively accurate.” Whilst there can never be a last word on any topic, accuracy, at least, should be every author’s aim. Sadly, there are a number of areas where a little checking could have limited the number of mistakes and proper referencing explained the basis for some of the more dubious claims.
Take for instance the (unreferenced) assertion that Lord French, commander of Home Forces after his removal from the Western Front in December 1915, ordered anti-aircraft batteries in Britain not to fire on enemy aircraft, an order that, it is stated, remained in force until June 1917. Quite what the men employed on the 367 anti-aircraft guns in England by 1916  found to do is unexplained.
The questionable statements range from the assertion that “almost 750,000 Allied troops, most of them British,” attacked on 1st July 1916 to the reason why so few letters from loved ones to the troops in the front line survive was that they were used as toilet paper. Armbands issued to men who attested under the Lord Derby Scheme were not blue with a red crown. All armbands were khaki but the crown itself was either red or blue, denoting an individual’s choice of service – red for the army and blue for the navy (and the Derby Scheme did not bring 2.5m men to the colours). Monitors were not employed on anti-submarine duties, the Lusitania was not sunk on 17th May 1915 and Lord Roberts, far from being against conscription, actively lobbied for it to be introduced before the war had even started. He was, after all, the president of the National Service League.
Errors can creep into any work and it is a shame because within the book are some gems. But these are often the cause of frustration themselves. The story of how some women were sacked from a munitions factory for refusing to wear trousers is told but where this took place or when is not explained. Only the longer quotations are referenced, those recounted in the author’s own words are not.
Overall, the book demonstrates what an excellent resource local newspaper can be but it is let down by factual mistakes, dubious history and the selective use of (out of context) quotations to support a ‘lions led by donkeys’ take on the events of 1914-1918.
Reviewed by Jim Grundy for War History Online.
We are pleased to welcome Jim to our reviews team. Amongst his many projects Jim has one of the best history pages currently on Facebook.
REPORTING THE GREAT WAR
By Stuart Hylton.
Pen & Sword Ltd