STAR AT GOD: BRITTANNIA IN THE GREAT WAR by Simon Heffer (Random House £ 30,988pp)
This year is the true centenary of the end of the First World War – or at least the Treaty of Versailles that finally brought it to an end. So it is a good time for Simon Heffer to report on how the Great War shaped Britain.
What is clear from this extremely detailed report is that the Great War (this was a term reader of the Times in 1915 decided to use) really changed Britain forever; more than any other war.
It started as a historian A.J.P. In another world, Taylor noted that & # 39; a wise, law-abiding Englishman could go through life and barely notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman & # 39 ;, and ended up establishing the modern state.
A young woman works in a London engineering store for the General Omnibus Company in September 1917 due to a shortage of male employees
Great Britain had waged a total war, and that changed everything. Simon Heffer (who, I should say, a friend) tells us how, from curbside drinking to the rise of the Labor Party.
The enormous extent of the culling of young men remains difficult, even now, to be understood – the bravest and best of a generation and reluctant conscripts. What would Britain look like if they hadn't died? There is no knowing.
Around 705,000 men from the British Isles were killed, more than 560,000 of them in Flanders; of the British Empire, another 250,000. The loss of officers was three times as high as that of other grades.
And for all those young men, you can count the secondary victims – the young women at home who have never been married and have had families.
But, as Heffer says, "nowhere was the unprecedented turmoil caused by the end of the total war more evident than in the position of women.
Women introduced themselves to a munitions factory in Shoreditch, London, in 1915
"The total number of working women increased by 22.5 percent during the war, to 7.3 million (almost one million of them in ammunition)."
The recruitment of women began when Sylvia Pankhurst marched 30,000 women to Whitehall to the ministry of ammunition and demanded the right to serve. She got the vote in return.
These women were fired in the short term when the men returned (one in five with venereal diseases), but there was no return to the old world.
"Many who left the domestic service for the front in 1914 or the industry never returned under the stairs. . . Middle class family, accustomed to having a housekeeper or cook, had to learn that doing it was not only a wartime measure, but permanent. & # 39;
And so The Servant Problem was born; this made the vacuum cleaner so too.
In 1915, two women were working on shell housings at the Vickers Ltd munitions factory in the UK
Social respect and the class system did not disappear in the war, but the author concludes that people no longer felt that & # 39; someone deserved respect, simply because he or she held a superior social station & # 39 ;.
In a sense, it was a justification for George Bernard Shaw, a brave pacifist (he stated early on that the best thing troops could do would be to shoot their officers and return home), who noted that the democratic argument for the conflict was that it would empower the working class. And what about the causes of the war? This is not a military history, the author says. Yet it is impossible to write about the consequences of the war without discussing how it came about and how it was fought.
THE MUNITIONETTES IN WW1
- Produced 80 percent of the weapons and grenades used by the British army.
- Were banished to wear nylon, silk, and bra with metal clips, all of which can cause friction and explosion.
- Worked with TNT, which turned their skin yellow and earned the nickname Canaries. Their babies were also born yellow, although the color faded over time.
- Were searched by the first female police officers in the country who were looking for contraband. They also made sure that the women did not slip away for a quick cigarette where they could cause an explosion.
- EARN 18 shillings per week, more than their counterparts in other factories or working on land.
How did the murder of the unpopular heir of the Habsburg empire by a fanatical Serb – an event that at the time hardly triggered a ripple – result in the deaths of millions? The admirable summary of Heffer is almost unbearable to read because it makes clear that war could have been avoided if statesmen had acted quickly and urgently.
It was not only German militarism to blame, but Austro-Hungarian intransigence and Russian insistence on solidarity with Slavic brothers in Serbia against the Habsburgs.
Germany, in turn, felt that it should support Austria; France that it had to support its ally, Russia. Great Britain was not obliged to participate, but this report shows that even without the German invasion of Belgium, British statesmen could not have allowed Germany to control the Channel and its ports.
The British foreign secretary, Edward Gray – who famously said: & # 39; The lights go out all over Europe & # 39; – felt that the major powers were heading for catastrophe, but he was unforgivably slow in warning the cabinet of the dangers.
As Simon Heffer notes with annoyance, why on earth did he take his worries to Hampshire to go fishing instead of the chancellery of Europe?
The only thing Heffer does not answer in this beautifully expanded history is why – when Germany made overtures for peace when the hell of trench warfare was known in 1916 – there was no call to take them on offer. It seems crazy to us now.
There are some unforgettable photos of individuals.
Two women depicted working at the Cunard shell works in Bootle, Liverpool, in 1917
Churchill emerges from this account as vain, bombastic, and absorbed (so disastrous in the Dardanelles campaign), while Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail and The Times, comes across as the embodiment of power without responsibility.
Some of the smartest observers are women, including Mrs. Asquith, the Prime Minister's wife.
She gives the book its title. & # 39; Now that shrapnel is killing a whole generation, & # 39; she wrote, & # 39; we are staring at God. & # 39;
A century later it doesn't look any better.
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