Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mud, Blood and Poppycock

I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘Mud, Blood and Poppycock’ by Gordon Corrigan which is about Britain’s role in the First World War; some excerpts can be found here (www.johndclare.net/wwi3_Corrigan_quotes.htm). Like most Brits of my generation, I’m sure that my main assumptions about the Great War have come from Blackadder Goes Forth (www.geocities.com/televisioncity/8889/bladder4.htm); so it was interesting to see this military gent demolish many of the myths about it. I particularly liked his description of the dimensions of a standard British Army latrine (16 feet deep) and just how many years it takes to fill up (he recalls one that had been used by 200 men for 6 years and still wasn't full at the time it got blown up - he doesn't explain how that happened, perhaps someone threw a cigarette down there).

His most interesting observation for me was that the reason they got soldiers to advance slowly in a line across no-man’s land during an offensive was so that they didn’t get shot by their own side, apparently this was especially true during the Somme because the troops were mainly raw recruits who couldn’t cope with anything too sophisticated in terms of battle plans; after the Somme, as the new recruits became battle-hardened and could specialise in different roles, they were able to refine their tactics and consequently suffer fewer casualties, which was nice.

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