The traditional view of World War One as four years of futile barbaric slaughter is wrong, say historians and commentators calling for a “debunking” of the myths of the Great War. Out goes the image of General Sir Douglas Haig as a ruthless incompetent and in comes the image of General Sir Douglas Haig the caring sensitive, people-friendly line manager.
In an article on the BBC History Website Dan Snow says “Just lay off the guy, ok? Maybe the 700 plus British and Commonwealth forces dead and missing per day over the four months of the Battle of the Somme is a tad high, but hey, just give the guy a break, yah? The war had only been going on for two years, Christ, he was just finding his feet. Like being a much loved piece of TV History eye candy for mums and upper-class totty, being C in C wasn’t an easy gig.”
Likewise the myth of trench warfare as a miserable dehumanising experience is “Just a lot of conchie boo-hooing.” Says Snow “The chaps in the trenches had a ball. It was, like, an extended gap year you know? And, like, anyone who disagrees is practically crapping on the Cenotaph, right?”
Snow cites recently re-discovered archive material such as the letter home from 12 year old Rifleman Herbert Burkitt. On August 23rd 1915 Rifleman Burkitt wrote: “Dear Mum. Last night we had a fondue party with the Jerries from the next trench. They apologised for being murdering hun swine and promised not to start another war for at least 20 years or they had a leader the Daily Mail approved of. Please mum, can I stay up with the other chaps till 1918? Lord Kitchener says we can. Your loving son Herbert. PS I should be home by Armistice Day and will definitely NOT be either physically maimed or mentally traumatised or killed and that. H”
Snow also calls for the “Whiney” image of the conflict from war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to be replaced by more “Upbeat” poets such as Lieutenant Algernon “Pam” Ayres:
“Oh I wish I was back in me trench.
Even though it was shared with the French.
I had stewed rat in me mess tin
And lost half me intestine
Still, I wish I was back in me trench.”