The Donkeys

EPUB EBook by Alan Clark

EBook Description



Ludendorff: The English soldiers fight like lions. The Donkeys EPUB EBook
Hoffman : True. But don’t we know that they are lions led by donkeys.


It may be suggested that in the preceding half- EPUBcentury the British commanders had acquired reputations that were greatly out of proportion to their achievements. p19


a popular tradition of heroic infallibility had been established which was to mate disastrously with the amateurish good humour and ignorance of contemporary military theory p20


It rained incessantly. From 25th october until 10th March there were only eighteen dry days, and on eleven of these the temperature was below freezing. p39


The horrible part is the slow lingering death of those who are gassed. I saw some hundred poor fellows laid out in the open, in the forecourt of a church, to give them all the air they could get, slowly drowning with water in their lungs – a most horrible sight, and the doctors quite powerless. (Charteris). p74


The gas clouds spread laterally, joined up, and moving before a light wind became “a bluish-white mist, such as is seen over water-meadows on a frosty night”. p76


One of the German battalion commanders spoke later of the revolting and nauseating impression made on them all as they watched the slaughter; download; so much so that after the retreat had begun they ceased fire… dozens of khaki-clad forms rose up once again and began to limp and crawl back to their own lines. “No shot was fired at them from the German trenches for the rest of the day, so great was the feeling of compassion and mercy for the enemy after such a victory.”There had been twelve battalions making the attack, a strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 officers and 7861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.” p173

Contrast all this with the recent war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.We wring our hands about each soldier’s deathand the families (in Britain) are quick to excoriate the government for not providing their brave boys with sufficient field equipment.Is this progress? Of a kind, I guess. (But if it’s not poor taste to point out, we’re still invading countries and shooting at the people who live there.)

This book is filled with military train-spotting which I’m not interested in, but as it grinds on it does do a fair job of sketching in the remarkable mental and emotional universe of the first year of the First World War, that big one which haunts me with its incomprehensibility.I read The Guns of August and I learned that everyone from street-sweepers to Emperors was gagging for it, they did not fear it at all – this would be in the big build-up, from 1905 to 1914. It was a great game, and it would be fought with pluck, and spirit, and bright fashionable uniforms which fitted in all the right places.From this book I hoped to learn why the grisly slaughter, once it had begun, was allowed to persist, why men volunteered to be cannon fodder, why officers led these men directly into the machine guns of the enemy.And I did discover that the Donkeys (the British high command) had an entrenched, immovable optimism which reality could not dislodge. And that everyone did not realise that just because the British shells threw up giant plumes of earth and mud and foliage, this did not mean they were actually doing much damage to the German troops, who had dug tunnels fifteen feet or more under their trenches, and sat out the bombardments, which only penetrated three or four feet.

So yes, I got that. but still, the horror of it all remains beyond me, ungraspable, out of reach. Like many things in life, I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.
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