The Australian War Memorial & the Somme blog

How very disappointing to see this sort of commentary being posted on a respected website such as the Australian War Memorial. It almost seems like we are back in the 1960’s with “Oh! What A lovely War” and Alan Clark’s “The Donkeys” being the model for “historical” analysis.

At Saturday’s day school at the Centre For First World War Studies on the Somme 95 years one – both John Bourne & Bob Bushaway comprehensively demolished (again) the “lions led by donkeys” view of the Somme – long lines of untrained Kitchener volunteers walking slowly shoulder to shoulder and carrying 70 lb packs into No Man’s Land and accomplishing nothing.

At the end of his first lecture, John did remark on the recent publication “To End all Wars” by Adam Hochschild and last week’s Matthew Parris article in The Times – and wonder whether his academic work throughout his career had actually accomplished anything – if this was still the persistent view of the Great War held in the public imagination.

To now find the AWM repeating the same mantra is very depressing, particularly as it follows on from the recent National Army Museum’s reference to “Butcher” Haig as part of its Britain’s Greatest General “competition.” The NAM’s tacit acceptance of this unsubstantiated (unless you are Alan Clark) sobriquet has now been used to justify its promulgation by that academic powerhouse Wikipedia.

I referred to this ongoing debate in my earlier post “Who are we preaching to?” – how sad to see it spread to supposedly respectable institutions as the AWM and the NAM. I have posted a comment on the AWM blog but it is “awaiting moderation” – I wonder if it will see the light of day?

3 thoughts on “The Australian War Memorial & the Somme blog

  1. Brian – I was also at Birmingham last weekend and during John Bourne’s comments over ‘wasting histime’ I was also thinking there must be another way (ref your previous post ‘Who are we preaching to?’….. I then began to think . . . does it really matter? Do we really need to continue to preach the revisionist gospel and react so aggressively towards those non-believers? If the evidence was not available for general public consumption then I would say yes, but as you quite rightly state the revisionist works have already provided that evidence in spades. As I stated in my blog:

    ‘The academic community, through robust historical research, has successfully debunked the folklore of the 1960’s. The mainstream public is in a confused state of transition, unsure whether to retain the sentimental attachment to the1960’s folklore, or to embrace the new revisionist interpretations.’ []

    As one who only relatively recently moved camps (May 2004) I can attest to this confusion. My ‘light bulb moment’ came during a visit to the Somme in 2004 and resulted in me completing my MA in First World War studies at Birmingham last year. I think we have to recognise that everyone’s ‘lightbulb moment’ will be different and force-feeding is not the answer. When individuals are ready they will find out the truth for themselves, and the key thing now is that they can due to the revisionist effort.

    I believe we need to accept that the transition from memory to history for the First World War is going to be a long and I’m inclined to think that your postulated ‘third wave of histories’ would produce a memory-history link inadvertently perpetuating the ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ based perceptions. – Tim Slater

  2. Tim – thanks for the comment. One of the reasons I went into the MA was to come to my own conclusions about DH & I have a way to go on that one – so I fully accept that this issue is as complex as the campaign itself. It is just frustrating to see the efforts of the last forty years worth of research by the likes of Terraine, Prior & Wilson, Sheffield, Simkins, Philpott etc get continually brushed aside – but particularly so when it comes from institutions like the NAM & the AWM.

    Perhaps as you suggest, patience is required!

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