Ours not to reason why; ours but to do or die.
The early morning of July 31, 1917. What official records would call the Third Battle of Ypres had begun. To the men who fought it, and to posterity, the British “Big Push” of 1917 on the Western Front would simply be Passchendaele, after the pathetic hamlet on the pathetic ridge that marked the climax of the British Expeditionary Force’s advance.
A century on, Passchendaele is a black-edged byword for futility. At least the Somme has the bright nobility of brave sacrifice.
Passchendaele has mud and the intransigent incomprehension of remote “chateau generals”. When Sir Launcelot Kiggell, a staff officer at British GHQ, visited the Passchendaele battlefield he is reported as weeping, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”
We come back yet again to the eternal issue of sheer incompetence and cascading errors versus deliberate incompetence. We also come to an elite which fired me up to start my blog nourishing obscurity, the sheer callous inhumanity of these “people” if that epithet can be applied to them.
A campaign in Flanders was controversial in 1917 and has remained so. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, opposed the offensive, as did General Ferdinand Foch the French Chief of the General Staff. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), did not receive approval for the Flanders operation from the War Cabinet until 25 July.
Matters of dispute by the participants, writers and historians since the war, have included the wisdom of pursuing an offensive strategy in the wake of the Nivelle Offensive, rather than waiting for the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France.
The choice of Flanders over areas further south or the Italian front, the climate and weather in Flanders, the choice of General Hubert Gough and the Fifth Army to conduct the offensive, debates over the nature of the opening attack and between advocates of shallow and deeper objectives, have also been controversial.
The passage of time between the Battle of Messines (7–14 June) and the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July, the opening move of the Third Battle of Ypres), the extent to which the internal troubles of the French armies motivated British persistence with the offensive, the effect of the weather, the decision to continue the offensive in October and the human cost of the campaign on the soldiers of the German and British armies, have also been argued over ever since.
Essentially, too many people give the benefit of the doubt, which I don’t because for a couple of decades now, I’ve been exploring this elite and that followed on from turn of the century being my particular field.
We have much better sources available now. Not saying better sources per se but good sources were not available earlier – at least they were heavily biased towards state or towards anti-state.
What we’re talking here in this elite is not just a lack of any concern for the common man but an actual disdain, a despising of the needs and concerns of. That is hard to forgive. If Passchendaele teaches anything, it is never to go to war on pretexts, hardly ever overseas but more importantly – never on the territorial whim of those bstds up above.
If that is naive, in that there’s no way to stop those bstds up above, I plead guilty.