WAR MEMORIAL STEERING COMMITTEE
formed to agree on arrangements
during and for the 2014 Centenary


A Report on the Meeting held on
Friday Mar 14th 2014, at 2pm,
inside The Old School



Present were: Councillor Terry Keal; Merrill Rhodes; Ann Pullen; Jean Sutherland; Liz Cook; Peter Blyth; Rob Haywood

This meeting was really for an update from the City Council as to progress with the proposed works on the war memorial. It was also an opportunity for us in the museum to update Cllr. Keal on our own arrangements for the weekend of 21st-23rd March and to see some of the displays we propose to show already arranged.

PLANS FOR NEW SCROLLS AND HARD SURFACE
We were shown plans of the war memorial, and how the new scrolls will sit on the existing steps. These will be inscribed with all the names of the St Mark's, Stoneferry and Wilmington men that Sutton 'inherited' when their churches closed down, to replace the existing stone tablets set into the earth around the base of the steps. Apart from being hard to read, those existing tablets get covered in leaf litter and are not really in the best place. The memorial itself is to be cleaned, and now that planning permission has been passed, the laying of the new hard surface slabs, from the entrance to the garden and all around the memorial, will commence in April.

Cllr.Keal told us that a full release to the press and media is to be made in this forthcoming week with more details. One new detail will be regarding a large donation that has been made to fund these new scrolls, both for the stone scrolls themselves and the inscribing of. When that announcement has been officially made, I will also post the details here. With the area properly slabbed, disabled and wheelchair access will be considerably improved. A small area of new pea-gravel will be left around the base of the steps for relatives to insert 'wooden poppy crosses' into the ground at appropriate times.

A NEW DEVELOPMENT for the MEMORIAL GARDEN ?
During these media releases, there is also to be an announcement of great importance to the Sutton memorial and all who hold it dear. An announcement that will, I think, give good reason for Sutton residents to be proud of their village and perhaps view their memorial in a new light. Listen out for it, for it will certainly interest our local news media, particularly Calendar and Look North. It may also interest residents to know that we have been given information that suggests that Sutton is the only memorial around these parts that is to be particularly honoured in this centenary year, with refurbishments as described above. Even plans for events in August at Hull's Cenotaph are not so advanced, and none of the other local villages appear to be doing anything particularly special. That is, unless you know different.

CANDLE-LIT VIGIL
We can also now confirm that the candle-lit vigil will be held on the evening of the 4th August, the day of the centenary itself, and not the evening before as first suggested. There will be a service conducted by the vicar of St James'. This is intended to partially replicate and honour those vigils and peace rallies held up and down the land, and particularly in London, right up to the night before war was declared. All are welcome to attend, and it is our wish that the now elderly members of the Royal British Legion branch for Sutton, which recently held their last meeting before disbanding owing to age, be accorded a place of honour in any arrangements we make in Sutton for this most important centenary.

THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION
We wish to pay tribute to the work of the RBL, both present and former members of the Sutton branch, over this past 90 years or so, for all they have done in keeping alive the collective promise the nation made all those years ago . . .

"We Will Remember Them."
The RBL Sutton Branch were the 'absent friends' at all our meetings so far, for we know they would dearly wish to have been more involved, but sadly, age does now weary them. In all our discussions, we tried to keep in mind what former branch members would have wished us to do. It is largely through those past hundreds of members' efforts, and those of their wives and friends that helped them, that we are where we are now.

OUR DISPLAYS IN THE OLD SCHOOL
Research on all of the names on the memorial is now well in hand. The first 36, of Sutton men carved in stone on the memorial itself, have already been completed, and in addition, there may be another half-dozen or so names that we feel were missed from the original inscriptions. The details of these men will be on display in the museum at our exhibition inside the Old School on the 21, 22, 23 March.

ADDING NAMES OF WAR DEAD MISSED FROM THE
ORIGINAL ROLLS OF HONOUR:

We are now embarking on deeper research of those men of Stoneferry, St Mark's in the Groves and Wilmington. This is another part of our 4-year rolling programme, where we intend to be able to publish an updated Roll of Honour which will include men we feel were also missed from the original rolls for those areas. Research has shown that there were some 900 men from those areas alone who served in the armed forces, of which our lists show around 150 who died from various causes, including killed in action, died from wounds, etc, in all the services including the Merchant Navy.

We therefore welcome contact from any descendants and relatives, with any extra information they may wish to give us. We implore anyone who knows of a casualty in their family, one not already recognised on those original rolls, to contact us or their ward councillor, and give those details. All existing names are on our War Memorial pages; see the buttons in the menu to check if those of your family are there. They can also be checked on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for extra verification of your family information.

We have until May 2018 to complete this, after which date no further submissions can be accepted, and the lists as they then stand will be published. New stone scrolls bearing any additional names will be then be inscribed ready for the Armistice Day service in November of that year, itself being the centenary of the end of the Great War. We anticipate a period of 6 months will be required to make the neccessary arrangements and to have all the newly inscribed scrolls ready for November, 2018, hence the cut-off date of May.

Please be clear, there is no intention to alter any of the existing carved inscriptions on the existing memorial, simply to replace those already set into the ground around the base of the plinth steps. The new scrolls will fit onto the existing steps, so raising the names out of the earth and leaf litter, and be in a style to complement the original stonework without actually harming it. As we considered the proposed plans, we all realised that this is what should have been done 20-30 years ago when Sutton 'inherited' the Stoneferry, Wilmington and Groves memorials as their own churches closed down. That is where any new names will be added, including the few extra Sutton men. If your family missed its chance to honour its war dead in 1918-20, then here is one last chance to put that error right 100 years later. We will have done our best by then to make as sure as reasonably possible that the additions are accurate and in full. More details about this, and more publicity other than just this web page, will be issued later this year.

We are still hopeful of gaining funding for some simple floodlighting to the monument itself. It is felt that, being in an enclosure of trees and bushes, however scenic that is in itself, does keep the area darker, and particularly in winter. The committee agreed that there is a lot to be said for the idea of lighting, particularly if a seat is also placed there. A well-lit memorial would not only be an enhancement, but should also deter neer-do-wells. It should be regarded as an investment, or insurance. Spending a small amount on lighting now will save many times more in the future in repair and cleaning bills, let alone the distress to local people and visitors when they find the place vandalised.

Any points or ideas can be put to any of the members of the committee for discussion. A full list of all the people that attended the very first meeting is below, though not all of them attended succeeding meetings. Thoughts about the memorial itself, ideas, should be put to any member. Information regarding the family history of any of the listed men should be put to a Family History researcher.

Also, can I ask if anyone can help with a real mystery . . . just WHERE are the records pertaining to the Sutton War Memorial itself, the architect, subscription lists, committee, etc. If you think you can help, please read this appeal on the Museum page HERE


Steering Committee Members

name representing contact via area of expertise
Blyth, Peter Yorkshire Regiments 01377 236009 Military records liaison
Burn, Carl Hull City Council 300300 HCC liaison / minutes
Clune, David Vicar, St James' Church 782154 The Church of England
Cook, Liz Sutton Museum lizcook88@yahoo.com Sutton Village FH Research
Greenslade, Jane Ings Family History Group Ings Library Stoneferry & The Groves FH Research
Hare, Shirley Ings Family History Group Ings Library Stoneferry & The Groves FH Research
Haywood, Rob Sutton Museum website rhaywood@rhaywood.karoo.co.uk Website / WM index / gen FH research
Marriot, June St James' Church via Sutton Museum Gen FH Research
Nock, Eric Sutton Events Committee The Reading Rooms PA & sound engineering
Prosser, Marlene Sutton Conservation Committee 709423 / Reading Rooms Sutton Events Committee
Pullen, Ann St James' and Sutton Museum either place Churchwarden, liaison
Rhodes, Merrill Sutton Museum in the Museum on Fridays Museum admin, research
Saxby, Ray Sutton Leisure & Sports The Reading Rooms Sutton Events Committee
Sutherland, Jean St James' / Sutton Museum The Church Office Church office, liaison
Wilson, Andy The Duke of York Public House 786930 Sutton Events Committee



REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2013

A few images of last year's Remembrance Service
at the Sutton on Hull War Memorial





details of the meetings of the
War Memorial Steering Committee
are just above, nearer to the top of this page


We are also looking for details about this memorial,
architects, subscription details, etc. Can you help?
If so, please click ... HERE







click individual smaller images for a slightly larger version
each opening in a new window. Use F11 to hide toolbars.

another useful tip: Ctrl+F4 closes a tab window without closing the programme


         


         

An unusual poppy wreath was that laid by 'Charlie', an English Springer Spaniel and now retired 'War Dog'. It can be seen in close up in the photo upper right, the large RAMC wreath on the left. Now with his new owner, Phil Jones, who took charge of Charlie after he was badly injured on recent operations in Afghanistan, he made the most of the affectionate attentions of the crowd at this year's service. The wreath was to honour and remember all those military working dogs that have already been lost when helping our forces in theatres of war. Click his picture to see his medals!

Phil, a retired Para as you can see, regularly takes Charlie to give talks on the work of our War Dogs, those especially trained to sniff out explosives, to schools and other organisation. Charlie, you may be surprised to know, is also a 'Para', fully qualified having undergone two parachute descents himself, and is the mascot of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. He wears his wings on the other side of his hi-vis coat to his medals.

Our best wishes to all those men and women still out 'in theatre', and especially to Charlie's hard-working compatriot War Dogs, many of who suffer terrible injuries before they are retired. See this link to see more Information on Working War Dogs, and the valuable service they perform daily. Few people know that retired army dogs can be adopted, but beware, it is a hard ask to give these wonderful dogs a home. Like marriage, adopting a War Dog is an institution not to be entered into lightly. If you're sure you can do it, and the selection process is rigorous, believe me, then visit this Pets4Homes Site for your next bit of advice.


there's a few more photos right at the bottom of this page



The photo above is of Sutton churchyard from a more unusual direction. It has often occurred to me that men with surnames that are at the end of the alphabet always did get a raw deal when privileges and goodies were being handed out. The last to sign the register at school, last for dinner, the last in a named line-up in the forces, last in everything. And so it has often seemed to me in the case of our war dead, and the guys that come at the end of any list. Last in life, and then last in death as well. So it must have always seemed for Robert Wright. This is his headstone, sprinkled here with dappled November sunlight in the darker corner at the very north end the churchyard. Probably the last war grave, in the far end of the churchyard, almost out of sight to most of our frequent visitors. In fact, none of the war graves are together, in a formal group. They are sprinkled around individually, buried where the next plot became available at the time of their deaths.

We in the musuem have just embarked upon a lengthy project to compile a modern database of all of Sutton's war dead. In a four year rolling project, we hope to find and publish all the known details of every name on our memorial. Not just an initial and a surname, but who they were, where they or their parents lived, what regiment or ship, and if possible, when and how they died. So that's why I include Robert Wright here. By definition, and his name, he is at the end of our list for WW1. But just for once, let him be first.

Lest we Forget.
   


TOP OF PAGE



details of the meetings of the
War Memorial Steering Committee
are just above, nearer to the top of this page


1914 - 2014
A CENTURY OF REMEMBRANCE

an outline article to the causes of the Great War is further below.


As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, it is now time to consider what this year is going to mean, and just how those horrendous sacrifices will be remembered, honoured and commemorated, particularly here in Sutton. I emphasise the word 'Commemorated' here. There will be no celebrations, this is not something to celebrate, or for the waving of flags. For this, the tone must be right, and appropriate. This is a time to honour, and remember. Maybe the year 2045 will be a year to genuinely celebrate, but only if we don't have another world war between now and then.

Meetings have already been held with representatives of interested parties in Sutton, such as us at the museum, the Royal British Legion, Conservation Society as well as those who regularly organise events in the village. Work is now underway to prepare for the commemorations of this August, and decide just what form they should take.

We're all familiar with those dates 1914-18, and 1939-45, and still tend to think of those years as being of distinctly separate eras. Historically, that is correct, for they were. But we do well to remember that the whole of that period, 1914 - 1945, was some 31 years of sheer hell for most people here in Britain. True, so it was too for many around the world, particularly those in Russia and China. But our focus here is on our own country, Britain, and particularly for the north, that devastating First War was followed by almost as devastating a depression and unemployment.

The fear and growing rumbles, the so-called 'storm clouds' of yet another approaching war, lasted easily as long as that Second War itself. For those who read their newspapers, and digested the news intelligently, 1933 onwards must have seen many increasingly holding their breath, scarce believing how events in Europe were turning out. From 1936, the future was becoming abundantly clear. It was not a question of 'if', but 'when'. To folk here in Sutton, still suffering and grieving the chain of events that started a 100 years ago, there must have seemed to be no end to their anguish in 1939 as their menfolk were sent off to war yet again, and against the same enemy. For it was all to happen again, and in some senses when we think of the Blitz here at home, to be many times worse. We cannot imagine now the fear and apprehension of those times, nor what it took in sheer guts to overcome.

Residents will already be aware that the war memorial itself was in need of a good clean, and this will be done courtesy of Hull City Council, the stone should then look fresher than it has for some time. The surrounding trees and shrubs, lovely as they look in autumn, do restrict the light and if too overgrown, can pose a considerable threat to the memorial itself should a neglected tree or bough come down in a storm. So they are due for a good pruning in 2014, again courtesy of the City Council, and hopefully, the difference will be appreciated. There are also plans to lay new stone flags to enable far better wheelchair access, and generally improve the site for year-round visitors as well as the annual Armistice Day services. We now need input from local folk who have a specific family interest in the war memorial to get in touch.

To that end, we in the museum invite anyone with Sutton connections and interests in their family story, wishing to be part of those commemorations, to come in and see us. Or, if from afar, to contact us by email or the Guestbook, all with a view to telling their relative's story and honouring their memory by setting it in a Sutton context. We have researchers on hand just waiting to help research your family's World War One story.

A note here; we are focussing on WW1 for these particular commemorations of this August. It's not that we wish to exclude those of WW2, but we feel the time to commemorate those men and women will be appropriate in the anniversaries coming up all too soon. For instance, in March, the Old School will be open for an exhibition to display information about WW2 and the effect here in Sutton on the Home Front. This year also sees a major anniversary of D-Day, and next year will be 70 years since the end of that war. And when we say 'Sutton', we do include the families of all those names on and around the Sutton memorial, so naturally including the men of Stoneferry, Wilmington and The Groves. Indeed, it includes all those areas that were the former St James Parish as of the 1880 Census. Things didn't really change much until the 1920s, until Sutton was incorporated into the City of Hull, and that is the Sutton, Stoneferry and St Mark's most of those men would have known before the world changed forever, and their particular worlds crashed about them.

Given today's digital world, such inclusion would, in effect, enshrine that person's story, their service and their loss, even more into the annals of history. Had this digital world, with its websites and data stores, been around back in 1918, every one of those lost men and women would have been remembered that way back then, just as our losses in today's armed services are now often honoured with pages on Facebook and other social media.

We really can now honour those words on every war memorial around the world, "Remembered For Ever More," to make those words, 'For Ever More' really mean what they say, 'Eternity'. Every November, in countless remembrance services, we collectively say, "We Remember Them," and indeed we do. The exemplary work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission around the globe ensures the memorials and headstones never fade, inscriptions are painstakingly maintained and where necessary, renewed. The CWGC mean what they say when they proclaim, 'Remembered in Perpetuity.' it's just another way of saying Eternity. But memories fade, time passes, attendance at remembrance services by our older veterans gets to be less and less.

But in addition to those countless remote cemeteries and headstones, our digital age means we do have an everlasting memorial, for all time, and not just for a couple of hundred or even five hundred years. What we do, and write now, will indeed last forever, hopefully for thousands of years. We can now really mean what we say, not just in the context of a few generations, or even documents in a far away London archive, but really forever. The actual war memorials also have an added significance for the relatives of those tens of thousands of men who have no known grave, no stone or memorial to mark their final resting place. Our online archives and more easily accessible records mean even more to those families.

We have within our means the skills and technology to make those words mean exactly what they say, to make ever sure that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. Our National Archives already do contain records of men lost in battle going back nearly a thousand years. But they were the nobility by and large, the knights and barons killed at Hastings for instance. But we don't have the names of every last man who was an archer or bowman, or those that were conscripted for the fight from their work in the fields. We've only had paper records up to recent years, and paper is fragile. Losing so many valuable soldiers' WW1 records in the London blitz of WW2 demonstrates that only too well. Even the records of Waterloo, the Crimea and Boer War are not totally complete.

What we do now will make sure that every single soul lost in all those wars from 1914 onwards, whatever his rank, job or station in life, really will be remembered a thousand years hence. We can do this better now, and in most cases, have already done that. What we can also add today is just a little of someone's personal experience, to go with those records, a previously unknown story. That story can be in many forms, such as the database we are now compiling, photos, memories of relatives recorded in sound or video, as well as collections of documents, medals and other memorabilia.

In addition to the work of the CWGC, all around the country in every county, local authorities are also now digitising and preserving the records of all our war memorials. Big and small, local or city and county wide, arrangements are being made to make our war memorials the centre of those commemorations. Many need serious restoration, many more just need a good clean, most need a tidy up, to remove debris and rubbish, to prune or trim foliage that encroach more than they were meant to. Almost every one of them needs some work doing somewhere.

Locally, our War Memorial will again be a focal point for such commemorations as the community deem to be fit and proper. We are fortunate in Sutton, for our memorial is in pretty good shape, as noted, as are the War Graves in the churchyard. The City Council have expressed an interest in working with Sutton's community in asking what we think we would require to improve accessibility, how we might like to mark the solemnity of next year and all that it means. These first two meetings have started the village along that path.

Being able to tell perhaps a few previously unknown local stories, particularly of the Great War, would be a fitting way to honour any family in their own acts of remembrance, in addition to whatever we may like to happen at the war memorial. To some small degree, this website does that already, in the brief biographies on our memorial pages, but we realise that not all stories can be told. Many are already lost forever in the depths of family history, often not spoken of to start with, and more often not written down or recorded in any way. We are going to try to collect and save those memories that remain, and that's where we need your help.

We have also long been aware, since first recording the Sutton memorial names on this website over 10 years ago, that the list appears to be incomplete. Some names that should be on there were said to have never been added, or just omitted. We want to set that record straight also, though the research required means that all may not be done in time for this August, but we do hope that all previous injustices are set right by 2018. This could well be a four-year rolling programme to right old wrongs, and you may have the information that can help.

For the few stories and annecdotes that remain in a family's memory, now may be the last chance to set those records straight and tell us what you do know. We respectfully invite you to contact us and talk to us, and look forward to hearing from you.

Rob. The Webmaster.

updated February 2014


THE PITY OF WAR

Are we teaching our children and grandchildren the right terminology?

This being the year it is, laden with the heaviest of significance, a great deal of tripe and rubbish will be spoken and written about all aspects of that war, not least its causes and the British military's conduct of the war. Indeed, it has started already with childish and pointless debate around the grossly misleading phrase, 'Lions led by Donkeys'. I suggest that such a bland overall view of WW1 is not only erroneous, but most unhelpful to a proper understanding of those times. But it is one that has been fostered, and taught to successive generations of youngsters for well over 50 years now.

It might be an unpalatable fact to some who were taught differently, but not all our generals and top brass were 'Donkeys' .. far from it, there were some very able and clever leaders that did indeed formulate the plans that enabled us to win in the end. Had they not enabled that victory, we would have already been taking our laws and instructions from Berlin almost a hundred years ago. Similarly, whether or not all our troops were 'Lions' depends on what they were doing, their particular job. Front-line infantry, and all units that actually came face to face with the horrors of war on land, sea or in the air, certainly showed high levels of courage that we find hard to comprehend now.

But that was not all soldiers and sailors by any means. Many, if not most, never had the chance to show lion-like qualities one way or the other. A good 80% of all our forces never saw enemy action, other than air raids. And many not even that. The vast majority of those men, and some women, would have readily disputed the term 'bravery' if asked about their own actions, and said that it was not bravery on their part, they just did their duty. That comes across in the many interviews over the decades of men long since gone, who were frequently heard to admit that, yes, they were frightened beyond belief, but would credit their colleagues with more bravery than themselves.

The words ALL or EVERY can be misleading, very emotive. There are grave dangers in believing, and teaching our children to believe, that things were always so black and white, as today's newspapers and media would have you think. As I've pointed out elsewhere in these pages, with reference to the Second World War, not every German was our enemy, and not all Frenchmen, Belgians or Dutch were our friends. A profound statement, that may shock some of you who have been taught differently, but this was almost as true of the First War too. If it comes to that, there were a significant number of British in both wars who were quite ready to do a deal with the Germans. It's also a fact that there were many Germans just as reluctant to fight as many of our men were, but were forced to serve in their forces by a warlike regime far more terrible than anything we could have imagined here. And many of them did so also with great heroism.

It's one of those basic facts of both world wars that we need to take in and digest if we've any hope of even the faintest understanding of those tragic years, of what actually happened, of how it all came about. Or to understand the actions of those who were genuinely brave, whether awarded a medal for their courage or not. Amongst the military, and true historians, it is a given truth that only a fraction of our total armed services, perhaps around 20%, actually saw front line action in trenches or land battles, or at sea, where they would see shots fired in anger or come under enemy fire. Four or five times as many troops again were in support units or services, manning the garrisons and barracks at home, servicing the fleet in shipyards or aircraft on home air stations.

Of course there were anomolies, exceptions to the rule. A good many men who thought they were signed up into a relatively safe job or trade, perhaps well behind the lines and not infantry, would find themselves running for their very lives in the teeth of an unexpected German advance, and showing great bravery too. And perhaps there were just as many who were simply itching to get to the front and fight the aggressor who found they just couldn't get there, despite their best efforts, holed up in a stores or transport job in Aldershot or Chatham dockyard. Admin errors, medical reasons, all conspired against a man's preferences in many cases. But again, in neither case, were they 'all'.

Yes, whatever they all did, they 'did their bit', and we couldn't have faced down German aggression, nor defeated it, without them. But they didn't all fight, not in the 'giving violence' sense of the word. He might have done his basic training and square bashing with a rifle, even the bayonet practice which many actually loathed, but not every soldier got to use a gun in the face of an enemy. Not every sailor went to sea in ships that would see enemy action. Indeed, a good many sailors were shore-based, and thousands more were based on ships of the fleet around the world that would never see or hear a shot fired in anger.

Having said that, it is also recorded that of the men who did 'go to the front' or saw action in battle, in all theatres of the war, 10% were either killed in action or died later of wounds sustained in action. That 10%, or one-tenth, make up about half of the total of some 900,000 British and Empire service personnel recorded as those who died .. almost a million. The other half died in other circumstances, most commonly of accidents in training, or natural causes such as pneumonia. Not a few older men simply had heart attacks and strokes. But they were still our 'war dead' .. they wouldn't have been there had it not been for the war, in many cases, the stress of war brought such illnesses on, and some may well have survived an illness at home with proper treatment. You can see how figures and statistics can be very misleading.

Even the massive army that Britain put 'into the field' in Flanders or elsewhere was supported by huge numbers of men not directly engaged in the fighting, doing an untold multitude of tasks just to support and enable the battalions of men that did do the fighting. Base support personnel, stores, transport, medics, engineers maintaining artillery and equipment behind the lines, headquarters staff, few of those saw actual combat.

As just one example, you may be surprised to learn that there were an incredible number of troops, thousands of men, just running the railway systems that took men and munitions to and from the battle areas. This does not to detract from the sheer guts and bravery of that 20%, many of who were not natural soldiers, but were in reality for the most part farmers and factory workers forced to fight and face enemy fire just to defend a way of life we all now take for granted. For a good many of the others, those 80% not involved in actual conflict, the correct term in my view, was to 'endure'. They worked, they slaved, they strove, they put up with innumerable hardships and far more than most of us could put up with now, but in the final analysis, they showed tremendous fortitude and saw it through. To endure, to have fortitude, strength of spirit, is commendable, but it's different to the concept of 'bravery' or even to be as brave as a lion.

It's all a question of using the right terminology. Just like the term 'hero' is freely bandied about today in almost every field of life where there is not 'true' heroism, the word brave is also grossly misused. A notable sportsman, or celebrity in their field, might show pluck, strength, resiliance, but bravery, or heroism? Seriously, is that really heroism, are we talking of the same thing as a man who spontaneously dives into a pond or river to save a life, or runs into a burning building to rescue someone trapped? Or a soldier who selflessly throws himself onto a grenade to spare his comrades. If a man was already a good swimmer, was it really that brave, or just a calculated risk in doing a humane and civic duty we would all like to think we would do ourselves if pushed? If his swimming abilities were dubious, however, then yes, that is bravery, true heroism, and is usually applauded as such, as are the actions of our hypothetical soldier.

Many men, undoubtedly, would have shown real bravery had they been called upon to fight, but the fact is the vast majority who served, whether volunteers or conscripted, weren't so called upon. Yes, many of those were still in some danger, simply by being there, in any theatre of war, risking death or injury from air raids or an unexpected enemy advance. Just getting on a troopship and crossing the Channel was not without its risks. What was heroic was going back to the front, having already been there and knowing full well what could happen, and did happen, especially after already taking a wound or injury. A lot of men did that, in both wars, and several times during the course of those wars, but they were still only a small proportion of the total, that 20%, who served.

Of course, there were more than a few men who fought in repeated battles, one action after another, who also knew what they were likely to be in for. I'll add that includes the men of the Merchant Navy, who for the most part, can be considered to be part of that overall 20%, and they hadn't even signed up to fight. Just going back to your ship after leave for another voyage, perhaps to the Arctic, knowing full well what the risks were because you'd done it before, was another sort of bravery entirely. Their heroism was of the highest order, and unquestionable. But for most it wasn't quite like that. There are subtle differences in tone, and we need to take those subtleties into account if we're to realise that the catch-all words of ALL, or EVERY, have no place in our understanding any war, which the phrase 'Lions led by Donkeys' would appear to suggest.

The idea that every man who served was as 'brave as a lion' is just as false as the one that every general was a buffoon. The whole story of that war is not as clear cut, black and white, nor cut and dried, as some modern historians would have us think. A serious study of the Great War would also highlight an awareness that it wasn't just the British that had grave troubles with strategy and planning, who made terrible and momentous mistakes that had a mountainous cost in lives. The German leadership, by and large, were just as stuck and hamstrung as we were to make an end of it. If anything, in the long run they made even more mistakes and sacrificed more lives than we did in trying to defeat us. Think about it, had they not been just as stuck, they would have been the ones to find a way out of the trenches stalemate to defeat us instead, and it really would have all been over, by the following Christmas, if not the one of 1914. And that very nearly happened, for as many experts have acknowledged then and since, it was a close-run thing. The Germans also had their share of 'Lions', but again, that was nowhere near all of them. That same figure of 20%, being the men who actually fought, is just as appliccable to them. Which all goes to show that none of it is as simple as it may seem, and it's time some ideas are set straight.

That "Lions led by Donkeys" view is one of them. That phase, or saying, was also used a lot earlier by various sides in both the Crimean War, and the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870's. Yes, for those of you who didn't know, the Germans had been at French throats before, and at the Danes even before that. That phrase, with particular reference to donkeys, was commonly believed to have been used by a German general, being critical of British generalship, in a conversation he had with a fellow officer. It was supposedly picked up and used several years later by a British author writing about the war, and credited to that German general, but the truth of it has since been seriously called into question. For it seems now it may well have been invented, a fib in fact, used to sway public opinion about who caused the horrendous death toll in the trench warfare in France and Flanders in particular. Another example of the many myths and fibs that surround any national disaster when the populace are on the hunt for scapegoats. It's no different now. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, link provided below.

The world is full of armchair generals who are very smug and wise after the event. They weren't there, no more than I was, and a lot of comments in today's media about WW1 come from people who are as far removed in time from that Great War as I am from the Crimean War. Just as I have no idea of the real conditions of the Crimea in the 1850s, and so would not dream to criticise that war's conduct at the time, they have no idea what they are talking about in 1914 either. As any modern soldier will tell you today, if you ain't been there, if you ain't done it, you can't know. But listening to those that did helps us to learn just a tiny bit of it, if we are serious about understanding it.

Over the years, I've been struck at how many old soldiers of WW1 were in the main complimentary about their leaders, especially their generals. When the scapegoat-mongers started to have a go at Field Marshall Haig, the man who took more stick than the rest of them put together, it caused a real outcry in the 1920s in many of the troops that had served under him. They roundly disputed the insult that Haig was one of the donkeys, and wrote to the papers in droves saying as much, but the insult stuck, and led to some of the lesser informed writing of the 1960s and since. In the next four years or so, as papers are released under the 'Hundred Year Rule,' there's going to be some revelations, and we'll start to see who really were the interfering politicians and less than able generals that made the overall task that much harder. The rotten politics between our own government and that of the French lost us more men than any of our own generals did. History hasn't changed things that much, the allies we rush to help and defend often are the cause of more of our own British lives lost than we could manage by our own incompetence. It goes on today.

There's a good deal none of us ever will, or can, know, but at least we should be realistic enough in today's age to realise that given the same set of circumstances, few of us would have done anything different. We are of our time, here and now, with different ideas and pressures to those of 1914. They, both the men who served and the men that led them, were of theirs. If things went wrong, as they so often badly did, we should at least read up more about it and attempt to understand why they went wrong, the pressures, the whys and wherefores of those times and how such huge sacrifices in human life came about. It wasn't all as unfeeling or as callous as the lions and donkeys phrase, and the way it has been used since, would suggest.

War is pitiful, mistakes in war are pitiful, but we should all at least hope to learn from them. The way things are today, I'm seriously doubting if we've learnt anything at all, and will be no doubt dwelling upon all that pity when I stand in front of our memorial to honour our few dozen names on August the 4th this year. I suppose from that standpoint, we at least come to a more realistic term or expression that most can agree upon, "the pity of war."


Rob. The Webmaster.

updated January 2014

Origins of the saying 'Lions led by Donkeys'.





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1938 and All That
being an outline of the causes of the Great War


You may well ask, what has 1938 got to do with anything, particularly the Great War? The quick answer is, Everything. Because of all that had gone before, and all that was about to happen after.

At the bottom of this page is to a link to an extraordinary article, of a lecture in fact, given by an unknown naval officer, in November of 1938. I say, 'unknown', as he simply signs himself M.C.R. And I include it here on this website for those fascinated enough with the origins of the tragedy of the Great War, and all the subsequent tragedies that followed. It gives the best summing up that I have ever seen of the main causes of what led up to that terrible August of 1914, and an equally keen insight into the terrible events that led directly to what followed. Just remember that within 3 years of this article being written, Hull city centre was largely reduced to rubble. That terrible event had its roots in what happened 24 years before, the centenary of which we mark this year.

The author, perhaps without realising it, brilliantly outlines the chain of events in the Germany of Bismarck's era and leading up to 1914, the Great War itself and how that war ended, through to the 1930s and the rise of the Nazi Party, and on to the Second World War, even though that hadn't started when he wrote this. I'd love to know who MCR really was. And did he survive the coming onslaught? I hope so, but we really don't know. His writing seems to show an awareness of his own impending fate.

It's a long read, and takes about 30 minutes. I recommend it to old and young alike, those with a good knowledge of those events, and also the younger students of history who may well be just delving into this momentous period of European history. I would say that anyone much younger than 14 would struggle to fully understand all that this article says, it was after all meant for other naval officers of good and broad education, from 18 year old Midshipmen upwards to more senior ranks. It appeared in the 1939 Spring Edition of a magazine called THE NAVAL REVIEW, the in-house magazine of the Royal Navy, along with lots of other articles and discussions of naval interest. Once read, anyone will have a far better appreciation of what 1914 was all about, and why it is so important to understand and remember it now, even after 100 years. I wish I could have read this when I was about 16 and first getting really interested in naval history and the origins of the two great wars that cast such a shadow over my family and would be such an influence on myself.

You must understand that, at the time of its publication just before the Second War, these articles were meant only for the eyes of officers of the Royal Navy, to give them some background of the situation Britain was then in, and some idea of what may well be facing them in the near future. On that score, it is amazingly prophetic. The writer hopes there will not be a war, but in his heart of hearts, he knows it's coming, and coming soon. A case of 'hope for the best', and 'prepare for the worst'. As we know, 'the best' did not happen. It's a classic example of the meaning of the phrase we have all become familiar with from the recent TV series, "A WARNING FROM HISTORY." My Goodness, it certainly was that.

To answer the question, 'what has 1938 got to do with anything?', the answer is simple. Munich. The previous September to this article appearing, in 1938, had seen what we now call The Munich Crisis, that last-ditched and doomed effort by the British Government, in particular Neville Chamberlain, to avert another European war. The Munich summit was designed to persuade Herr Hitler to reign in his European military adventures, with no more repeats of the recent 'annexation' of neighbouring countries like Czechloslovakia. It was well known even then that Poland was next on the list.

So the article was written as a lecture, and given in the November, only weeks after Chamberlain returned from meeting Hitler, famously stepping off his aeroplane and waving the piece of paper bearing Hitler's signature, declaring it meant 'Peace in Our Time.' Well, he was right in a way, it was, for just under another year. But for so many millions, their 'time' was just coming to an end. Many men of the Royal Navy, reading this article in 1939, would not be alive six years later when it all came to an end.

If you've got this far, you may well now want to "READ THE ARTICLE".

THE NAVAL REVIEW . . . a link to all 400 editions, since 1913.
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