Forgotten Victory: the First World War Myths and Realities by Gary Sheffield (2001)

Forgotten Victory: the First World War Myths and Realities (2001) by military historian Gary Sheffield is part of a new-ish revisionist school, setting out to overturn all the clichés about WW1 e.g. it was a pointless war, lions led by donkeys, carnage battles etc.

In a succession of snappy chapters Sheffield shows how:

  • The image of the Great War was created by a tiny handful of junior officer poets and memoirists and handed down by generally left-wing, pacifist types in charge of English culture from the nancy poets of the 1930s to Joan Littlewood’s ‘O What A Lovely War’ in the 1960s, to Blackadder in the 1980s, Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong (1993) and plenty of others.
  • How Britain had to enter the war and, if it was to do so, did best to enter early. If we let Germany defeat France, Germany would have dominated Europe with various bad consequences, for example taking its time to prepare an invasion of Britain. If we were going to intervene at all, it had to be immediately.
  • Despite their manifold shortcomings the general staff did systematically learn lessons that made the British Army, by 1918, the best fighting force in the world, the force that turned the tide and, in fact, won the war in the West.
  • And how – as his title suggests – although we Brits tend to obsess about the great disasters of the war – the first day of the Somme, Passchendaele and so on – we did, actually, comprehensively and completely win the damn war.

N.B. This is the second or third book I’ve read which emphasises that the Australians were the toughest fighters of the war, followed by the Canadians. The Aussies sound amazingly brave and tough. And that also criticises General Pershing, the American commander who, refusing to listen to British generals, insisted on doing things his own way, repeated the mistakes of 1915 and ’16 and unnecessarily lost thousands of American troops in the process.

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