Thursday, 16 December 2010

Appendix 1: The Organisation of the British Army in WW1

Memorial to the 51st Highland Division at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme.

This blog uses terms such as "regiment, battalion, division etc". What do these terms mean?

The basic unit of organisation was the regiment. There were infantry regiments who fought on foot and cavalry regiments. (In WW1, cavalry soldiers were still expected to fight on horse back and fight with a sword and a rifle or pistol.)

Each regiment recruited from a particular area of Scotland. For example, the Royal Scots recruited mainly in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Each infantry regiment was made up of 2 battalions. Each battalion consisted of around 1000 men and 30 officers.

Battalions were made up into Brigades. 4 battalions to a Brigade.

Brigades were made up into Divisions. 3 Brigades to a Division.

So the 51st Highland Division and the 52nd Lowland Division which fought throughout the war each consisted of around 12 000 men.

The Division was not the largest unit. This was the Army. There were 5 Armies in the British Army which fought in France and Belgium in WW1. Each army consisted of a mixture of infantry, cavalry and artillery. Also engineers, field hospitals staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps and even motorised and horse drawn pigeon lofts.

Pigeons? For carrying messages of course. Telephone cables were liable to be cut by shellfire.

Let's finish this blog with a laugh ...


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

6. The War in Perspective

To the eternal memory of the officers, NCO's and men of the 15th (Glasgow Tramways), 16th (Boys Brigade) and 17th (Glasgow Commercials) Battalions of the Highland Light Infantry who foughtand died near the village of Authuille during the opening days of the Battle of the Somme on the First of July 1916

"From a hundred lonely graves in that foreign field - from the spots where they fell,
and which now are sacred spots for us - our dead men are asking us when we mean to erect that monument

From trench and shell hole where death found them, their voices call - young,musical
voices, the voices of boys still in their teens, the voices of martyrs on life's threshold.

Scarce a wind can blow that will not waft to these voices. And they ask a better Britain as their monument. They ask it of you and me.

Shall we not go from this place resolved to build it?".

What were the short and long term effects on Scotland of the war?

The Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai visited the United States in 1971. He was asked about the effects of the French Revolution which took place in 1789. He replied, “It is too soon to say.”

The same answer might be given to a question about the effects of WW1 on Scotland!

There were short term effects of course:

• the deaths of Scots in combat. There is disagreement among historians about the final count but it was certainly higher than the original tally of 74 000 and probably higher than 100 000.
• the physical wounds which resulted in a huge demand for artificial limbs and the setting up of hospitals where disabled ex servicemen might live and be cared for. The Scottish War Blinded centre at Linburn for example. Hyperlink
• the psychological wounds. There is a local connection here also. Craiglockhart Hotel in Edinburgh was used as a war hospital and specialised in treating soldiers who suffered from “shell shock”. Hyperlink

These were short term effects but remember that the last “Tommy” who fought in and survived WW1, died as recently as 2009. And of course there are the families and the widows and the orphans. The “short term” effects had a longer term impact also. Another example of this would be the campaign to pardon British soldiers who were executed by the British Army for cowardice.

In 2006, the British government did indeed pardon the men who were “shot at dawn”.

What about the longer term effects?

The war accelerated the process of emigration from Scotland. This process continued at a lower level for most of the 20th century.

In politics, the Liberal Party was replaced by the Conservatives as the dominant force in elections to the UK parliament. The Labour Party grew too and came to control many local councils, especially in the central belt. In the 1960’s and 1970s, the Labour Party started to overhaul the Conservatives in UK elections.

The Scottish National Party can trace its roots directly to WW1 and the Scottish renaissance which followed it. The National Party of Scotland was set up in 1928. The SNP struggled to gain support because the war had been won by a British Army and the British Empire. It was only in the 1970s with the discovery of oil in the North Sea and the final decline of Scottish heavy industry that the SNP gained significant success in UK elections.

Broxburn Academy pupils who have been on the school’s visits to the WW1 battlefields know that there is permanent perspective on WW1 which takes place every night without fail at the Menin Gate in Ypres …

Friday, 10 December 2010

5. Domestic impact of war: politics (2)

The Decline of the Liberal Party

In 1914, the Liberal Party was dominant in Scottish politics. In 1928 only a handful of Liberal MPs were elected. How did this happen?

1. Liberal splits

Even before 1914, the Liberal Party was starting to split. The "New Liberals" wanted greater government interference in society. Traditional Liberals stuck to the old "laissez faire" ideas of non intervention. During the war, the Liberal Party fell apart when Asquith was forced to resign and his Liberal colleague Lloyd George took over as Prime Minister. Supporters of Asquith never forgave Lloyd George for this act of betrayal, as they saw it.

2. Finances

The split in the Liberal Party made it very difficult for the party to raise money to fight elections.

3. The 1918 "Coupon / Khaki Election"

Lloyd George fought the 1918 election as leader of a coalition government. Candidates who supported the government were given a written document or "coupon" of support from the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. There was no chance of any Asquith supporters getting such support and they were decimated in the election. Asquith himself cwas defeated.

4. The Rise of Labour

The Labour Party had been very weak in 1914 but it took advantage of changing conditions. It claimed to be the champion of the working class and local Labour and ILP politicians were important in organising the Glasgow Rent strikes for example.

After the war, the Labour Party benefited from the increase in the working class electorate due to the 1918 Reform Act. The party leader, Ramsay Macdonald, also appealed to better off voters by stressing the respectability and reasonable demands of the Labour Party. He also deliberately targeted constituencies in the cities where the Liberal party was divided and where the Labour Party could gain votes from this.

The Beginnings of Scottish Nationalism

Source : Watch this clip from the BBC "History of Scotland" series.


Make your own notes on the part played by Christopher Grieve (aka "Hugh McDiarmid) in encouraging the idea of independence for Scotland.

Strengthening the Union

The decline of the Liberals benefited the Conservative Party which remained the dominant party after 1918. In Scotland, the party was known as the Conservative and Unionist Party so it's voters knew that they were supporting a party which was committed to the union with England.

The strengthening of the union with England was partly because of the war: Scottish soldiers had fought and won victory as part of the British Army and Scots emigrants boarded ships bound for countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth such as Canada and Australia.

Many Protestant Scots (the majority) were worried at developments in Ireland where a civil war took place after 1918 between supporters of Irish Home Rule and Republicanism and British forces. Many Protestant Scots also sympathised with protestants in Northern Ireland who demanded that Northern Ireland remain part of the union with Scotland and England. This actually happended in 1922: Southern Ireland was given Home Rule but Northern Ireland remained British.

The UK government also set up government departments in Scotland such as the Scottish Home and Health department. A new headquarters for British government departments was built in Edinburgh in the 1930s. Scotland seemed to be benefiting from the Union.

St Andrew's House, built by the British government in Edinburgh. Opened in 1939.

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Produce a detailed mind map / spider diagram with "Political changes caused by WW1" at the centre.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

4. Domestic impact of war: politics (1)

The impact of the war on political developments as exemplified by the growth of radicalism, the ILP and Red Clydeside, continuing support for political unionism and the crisis of Scottish identity.

Source 1: This photograph of a Glasgow rent strike demonstration is on display in the Labour Party meeting rooms at West Lothian Council Civic Centre.


Source 2: the John Maclean March sung by Dick Gaughan.


Lyrics to the song.

Hey, mac, did ye see him as he cam doun by Gorgie
Awa owre the Lammerlaw an north o the Tay?
Yon man is comin an the hail toun is turnin out
We're aa shair he'll win back tae Glesca the day
The jiners an hauders-on are merchin fae Clydebank
Come on nou an hear him he'll be owre thrang tae bide
Turn out Jock an Jimmie, leave yer cranes an yer muckle gantries
Great John Maclean's comin hame tae the Clyde

Argyll St and London Road's the route that we're merchin
The lauds frae the Broomielaw are here, tae a man!
Hey Neil, whaur's yer hauderums, ye big Heilan teuchtar
Get yer pipes, mate, an merch at the heid o the clan
Hullo, Pat Malone, shair A knew ye'd be here, so,
The red an the green, laud, we'll wear side by side
Gorbals is his the day an Glesca belangs tae him
Nou great John Maclean's comin hame tae the Clyde

Forward tae Glesca Green we'll merch in guid order
Will grips his banner weill, that boy isnae blate!
Aye, weill, man, thair's Johnnie nou, that's him thair the bonnie fechter
Lenin's his feir, laud, and Liebknecht's his mate
Tak tent whan he's speakin for thae'll mind whit he said here
In Glesca, our city, an the hail warl besides
Och man the scarlet's bonnie, here's tae ye Heilan Shonie
Great John Maclean's comin hame tae the Clyde

Aye weill, whan it's feenisht A'll awa back tae Springburn
Come hame tae yer tea, John, we'll sune hae ye fed
It's hard wark the speakin, och, A'm shair he'll be tired the nicht
A'll sleep on the flair, mac, an gie John the bed
The hail city's quiet nou, it kens that he's restin
At hame wi's Glesca freens, thair fame an thair pride
The red will be worn, ma lauds, an Scotlan will merch again
Nou great John Maclean has come hame tae the Clyde

The Myth of Red Clydeside?

This blog has mentioned other things connected with Scotland and WW1 which some historians think are "myths". There's the myth of the Scots as a "warrior race". Then there's the myth of Haig, the Butcher of the Somme. This blog page is about the myth of Red Clydeside. Or is it a myth? The Labour Councillors elected to West Lothian Council don't seem to think so. Nor did Hamish Henderson who wrote the "John Maclean March" or Dick Gaughan who sings the song.

You, of course, will have to judge for yourself.

What is meant by "Red Clydeside"?

This simply means the rent strikes and the trade union led strikes and other protests which took place on Clydeside during and soon after WW1. It also refers to the British government's attempts to control all this radical protest including the trial and imprisonment of leaders such as James Maxton, Willie Gallagher and John Maclean. Some believers in the "myth" go even further and suggest that Glasgow came close to revolution in the aftermath of the Great War.

The Key Events.

HyperlinkStudy the key events on this website page.

Source 3: From "The Flowers of the Forest" by Trevor Royle.

Clydeside remained quiet when English factories in London, the Midlands and the North went on strike in May 1917. The dilution commissioners brokered agreements in all the main factories, the Clyde Workers' Committeee went into decline and there was no repetition of the militancy which had made the government fear that they were dealing with a general revolt in 1915 - 1916.

After some initial difficulties Beardmore eventually gave Kirkwood a job as foreman at their Mile End shell factory where Gallagher was now a shop steward and between them these much feared revolutionaries quickly broke records for munitions production ... As TC Smout tartly notes in his study of that period, "this was no way to bring the capitalist system to its knees."

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Collect evidence from this blog page in support of or in opposition to the following motion.

"This House believes that "Red Clydeside" was a period of radical political change which brought Scotland to the brink of revolution."

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

3.1 Domestic impact of war: industry and economy

This blog page will cover ...

Wartime effects of war on industry, agriculture and fishing; price rises and rationing; post-war economic change and difficulties; post-war emigration; the land issue in the Highlands and Islands.

Source: Watch this clip from the BBC series, "A History of Scotland".



The immediate impact of the war was to create a massive demand for those goods which Scotland was well equipped to provide: iron and steel and even aluminium (produced near Fort William), coal, West Lothian's oil, locomotives, shipping etc. The need for production was such that the government controlled these industries until the end of the war.

This massive boost was only temporary. It also disguised some basic weaknesses such as a lack of investment in new techniques and modern machinery which made it difficult for Scottish firms to compete with foreign companies in the longer run.

When the war ended, for a couple of years, there was a "replacement boom" as factories replaced worn out machinery, soldiers spent their demobilisation pay and families bought goods they had been deprived of during the war. Then demand fell and Scottish industry went into recession. The government also ended the controls and guaranteed prices which had boosted industry during the war. Government policy also kept the value of the £ high which made it more expensive for foreign consumers to buy Scottish goods.

The recession lasted for most of the 1920s and 1930s until the approach of WW2 and re-armament boosted industry again.

Post war emigration

Source: Historian WW Knox

During the 1920s and 1930s the principal aim of the emigrants was to find work and wages and escape mass unemployment at home. Age-wise this has generally most affected the age group 16-29; in terms of occupation, skilled rather than unskilled workers; and in terms of sex, men rather than women. Although most of the emigrants were able to make a better life for themselves and their families abroad, the impact on Scotland has been less favourable. Many of the most productive and talented Scots have left their birthplace to enrich, both economically and culturally, other countries at the expense of their own.

Agriculture and Fishing From this web page


Major industry before the First World War, employing over 32,500 men. By 1917, employing fewer than 22,000 men.
White fish industry decimated, only herring industry remained stable.

North Sea almost totally closed to fishing.

Fishing only allowed in inshore areas on the West coast, banned in the Firth of Clyde.

East coast ports taken over by the Admiralty, neutral fishing boats banned.

Loss of herring trade to Russia and Northern Germany caused a slump.

Royal Navy Reserve (Trawler Section), 8,000 strong, kept the industry going when restrictions elsewhere prevented its operation. 2,000 of these fishermen came from Lewis.

Restrictions on how much could be fished pushed up prices and by 1917 white fish was rationed.

From 1917 onwards: slight improvement to industry when the Germans started unrestricted submarine warfare.

Many of the Scottish fishermen and merchant navy sailors who lost their lives came from the Western Isles; a local perception that these areas suffered disproportionately.


Food became increasingly scarce and more expensive as the war progressed. Government promoted self-sufficiency by introducing measures to make more farmland arable.

Attempt to grow more in Scotland not very successful as amount of suitable land was limited; many were hill farms. Only 5 out of 19 million acres were under crops.

Labour shortage as many had volunteered to fight in the war; more men in this industry than elsewhere. Number of farm workers dropped by 18,000 over the course of the war.

Main contribution from farming in Scotland was from sheep farming: wool and meat.

Sheep industry enjoyed full employment and high wages from 1916, when the Government bought all of Scotland’s wool production.

Average wage of a ploughman more than doubled by 1919.

Oats and vegetables all increased in amount being farmed and yield because of the need to grow more home products.

Food shortages led to ‘meatless’ days by 1918: Wednesdays and Fridays in Scotland.

Food rationing in operation in Scotland by 7 April 1918.

1920 Agricultural Act introduced to maintain prices and production. However, by 1921 this Act was abandoned because of the poor state of the economy causing hardship for many farm workers who lost jobs or had wages cut.

The land issue in the Highlands and Islands.

The casualties caused by the war and the re-newed emigration which followed were felt especially strongly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. These areas had been suffering de-population for fifty years before WW1.

All this made those who were left all the more determined to bring about changes and the change which they sought was in land ownership. They were helped to some extent by promises made by Prime Minister David Lloyd George during the war. He said that the men who fought the war must return to a land "fit for heroes".

Highland crofters had enjoyed security of tenure from 1886. The 1919 Land Settlement (Scotland) Act released funds and allowed the Board of Agriculture to compulsorily purchase private land. However, the process was time consuming. Land raids occurred, especially by ex-servicemen who expected land on their return from the trenches, in areas like Lewis, Uist, Skye and Sutherland.

You can find out more about this issue and emigration after the war from this website.

Monday, 6 December 2010

2.3 scale and effects of military losses on Scottish society; commemoration and remembrance.

Source: The war memorial in Strontian

View Larger Map
The village lost nearly all the men who left for the war. The inscription on the memorial says ... "These were ours in the days of their boyhood and their names are our heritage".

The casualties caused by the war were only the first sign of change. The war was followed by an economic depression which caused high unemployment. Emigration from Scotland reached its peak in the early 1920s.

The rapid changes brought about by the war brought about a feeling that a bridge had been crossed between an old and a new Scotland. This feeling was especially apparent in books and poetry of the time. The most famous example is "Sunset Song" by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.(1932) The book tells the story of how the war changed a fictional farm community of Kinraddie in the Mearns. (The farming lands south of Aberdeen.) The book ends with a speech by the Minister at the unveiling of the war memorial.

A Memorial for the Fallen

The sense of loss led to the creation of a Scottish National War Memorial. This was designed by the architect Robert Lorimer and built on a site in Edinburgh Castle. It contains the roll of honour listing the names of all Scots or people of Scots parentage who lost their lives during the war. The graves of the fallen were far away in France or Belgium or even further. Many had no graves. The memorial became a place of pilgrimage for many Scots families.

The photograph shows the wreaths laid outside the memorial on the day of its formal opening.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

2.2 DORA; changing role of women in wartime, including rent strikes

DORA (Defence of the Realm Act)
Make your own notes on DORA by reading this website page.

The Changing Role of Women

Read and make notes from this website page.

The Suffragette movement was another organisation which split over the war. Emmeline Pankhurst,the leader of the militant Suffragette WSPU called off any further action. However, her own daughter Christabel disagreed and campaigned against the war. The Scottish Suffragette and socialist Helen Crawfurd also left the WSPU because she opposed the war.

Helen Crawfurd, Glasgow suffragette and socialist

The Glasgow Rent Strikes

Helen Crawfurd was one of the leaders of the Glasgow Rent Strikes. These were protests at the increase in housing rents in Glasgow during the war. Poor quality housing was already a major problem in Glasgow. The boom in war related industries brought extra workers into Clydeside and increased the demand for housing. Landlords were accused of taking advantage of this situation to line their own pockets by charging higher rents. Families which could not afford the higher rents wee threatened with eviction. Women were particularly important in the campaign because often their husbands and partners were away fighting.

Source 1: A demonstration in Glasgow

Source 2: A poster displayed in windows of homes of families threatened with eviction.

The sources show how well organised the Rent Strikes were. As well as demonstrations like the one above, families threatened with eviction were protected by the posters placed in the windows. Any agents ("bailliffs" or "sheriff's officers") employed by landlords to throw a family out of their home would be faced with an angry mob determined to stop them. A famous cry was ...

"God help the bailliff who comes into this close!"

Tactics like these put a stop to the evictions.

Eventually the government was forced to step in and control rents by law. A major victory had been won by direct action. Some historians argue that the Labour Party and the ILP which helped to organise these protests also benefited from these actions and, after the war, increased their vote at the expense of the Liberals who were often identified with the landlords.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

2.1 Recruitment and conscription; pacifism and conscientious objection.

Source: Trevor Royle "The Flowers of the Forest."

"Despite initial doubts, the volunteer principle worked: by the end of 1915, the British total was 2 466 719 men, more than would be achieved after the introduction of conscription in May 1916 and just under half the wartime total of 5.7 million men who served in the army during the war years. of their number 320 589 or 13% of those who volunteered in 1914 - 1915, were Scots."

The Scots contribution to the surge of volunteers has been noted on another page of this blog. However, there were others who did not and would not volunteer. Some refused to volunteer because they were opposed to the war for religious or political reasons. Others were opposed to conscription which was introduced in 1916 as the surge of volunteers slowed and the casualties mounted on the western front.

Pacifist Opposition to the War

1. Religious pacifists

Religious groups such as the Society of Friends (more commonly known as "Quakers") had always opposed war for religious and moral reasons. They took the Bible as the word of God. The Commandment says "Thou shallt not kill" and Jesus told his followers to "turn the other cheek" if they were struck by an enemy. Quakers and other groups such as the Jehova's Witnesses and Plymouth Brethren and many other Christians refused to fight.

The Cadburys, Rowntrees and Terrys, all famous chocolate making families were Quakers and supported many anti war groups financially.

2. Other Pacifist Opposition

The most important pacifist organisation was the No Conscription Fellowship. This organisation encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred."

Political opposition to the war

1. The Union of Democratic Control

The most important organisation to oppose the war was the Union of Democratic Control. Find out more and make notes from this site.

2. Socialist Opposition to the War

Attitudes to the war were not based on party loyalty. The UDC was formed when Liberal government minsters resigned rather than support the war. This was the first of many splits in the Liberal Party. You will find out in another Higher unit that these splts were to be fatal to the Liberals.

The other major party to be split over the war was the Labour Party. Some Labour politicians supported the war but others strongly opposed it. Among these were Ramsay Macdonald and Kier Hardie. They were Scots born but their political work was mainly in England. Among Scots based socialists who opposed the war were James Maxton, Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd of the ILP and John Maclean of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Source: John Maclean on 17th September 1914.

"... it is our business as Socialists to develop a “class patriotism,” refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism. The absurdity of the present situation is surely apparent when we see British Socialists going out to murder German Socialists ... Let the propertied class go out, old and young alike, and defend their blessed property. When they have been disposed of, we of the working class will have something to defend, and we shall do it."

3. The Introduction of Conscription

Until 1916, recruits joined the army as volunteers. In May 1916, conscription was introduced: able bodied menwere to be forced to join the army. There were only four exceptions ...

a. Those who were needed for essential war work could be exempted if they had the support of their employer.
b. Compassionate grounds. For example if an aged mother or father relied on the person for support.
c. If Ill health or infirmity made the person unfit for service.
d. Conscientious grounds. (Those who applied for exemption wee known as conscientious objectors or "conchies".)

Local tribunals were set up to hear appeals and grant exemptions. This led to much unfairness since an appeal might be granted by one local tribunal but a very similar case turned down by another local tribunal. The tribunals often dealt harshly with those who appealed for political or conscientious reasons.

Source: from the Spartacus.schoolnet website.

"About 16,000 men refused to fight and these were called conscientious objectors. Most of these men were pacifists, who believed that even during wartime it was wrong to kill another human being. About 7,000 pacifists agreed to perform non-combat service. This usually involved working as stretcher-bearers in the front-line, an occupation that had a very high casualty-rate. Over 1,500 men refused all compulsory service. These men were called absolutists and were usually drafted into military units and if they refused to obey the order of an officer, they were court-martialled.

Forty-one absolutists were transferred to France. These men were considered to be on active service and could now be sentenced to death for refusing orders. Others were sentenced to Field Punishment Number One. Those found guilty before being transferred to France were sent to prisons such as Peterhead or Dartmoor to undertake hard labour. Conditions were made very hard for the conscientious objectors and during the war sixty-nine of them died in prison."

Conscientious objectors held at Peterhead prison worked at the nearby Dyce quarry. Conscientious objectors were also used as labour at the Broxburn Bone Meal works near Roman Camp.

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Make up your own revision notes on each of the groups which opposed the war. Include the reasons why each group opposed the war and thenames of any important members.

HyperlinkThis Channel 4 programme gives an excellent and moving account of conscription and conscientious objection.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

1.5 Leadership

There were of course thousands of Scottish leaders during WW1. They included Piper Daniel Laidlaw of the King's Own Scottish Borderers who was awarded the Victoria Cross ...

"For most conspicuous bravery prior to an assault on German trenches near Loos and Hill 70 on 25 September 1915. During the worst of the bombardment, Piper Laidlaw, seeing that his company was badly shaken from the effects of gas, with absolute coolness and disregard of danger, mounted the parapet, marched up and down and played company out of the trench. The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed out to the assault. Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes until he was wounded."

Then there were the officers. Men such as Colonel George McCrae (above), a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who recruited and commanded the 16th Royal Scots which included the Hearts footballers. When McCrae died after the war, thousands of Edinburgh folk lined the streets to pay their respects.

However, when historians discuss the issue of leadership during WW1, the debate always focuses on one Scot only:General, later Field Marshal Douglas Haig ...

The debate about Haig's leadership is a bitter one. Achieving a balanced view can be difficult.

Source 1

Watch this clip from a BBC documentary about Haig. Is it favourable to or critical of Haig?


Source 2

Now watch this clip. It gives a more balanced view of Haig.

Source 3: Historian Tevor Royle discusses the attacks made by some historians on Haig ...

"Haig was all too often treated as a cardboard cut out ... According to the stereotype Haig was a dull witted cavalry officer ... who stubbornly continued fighting the war with the debased tactics of attrition because he lacked the ability to find other ways of winning battles. Owing his position to influence, he back stabbed his way to power and held onto it with a ruthlessness that matched his indifference to high casualty figures and then re-cast the record in his diaries to put himself in a good light. Even the fact that he was a serious minded Christian has been held against him ..."

Source 4

The historian John Terraine was one of the first historians to publish a revision of Haig's reputation. He offers a very positive point of view ...

His attitude towards tanks is most revealing of all. Without even having seen them, he detected in them the possibility of 'decisive results', and after their debut, which many thought equivocal, to say the least, he sent his Deputy Chief of Staff to London to demand 1,000 tanks without delay. I need hardly add, he never got them.

He summed up his attitude towards the technicalities of the war after a meeting between Ministers and Generals to discuss new weapons at the end of 1915; he said:

I thought the meeting was good for the generals as well as for the Government. Generals after a certain time of life, especially French, are apt to be narrow-minded and disinclined to take advantage of modern scientific discoveries. The civilian Minister can do good by pressing the possibility of some modem discovery.

The war of technology was also a war of organisation. It was called - without affection - a Staff Officer's war, and so it was, because armies of millions require an enormous apparatus of administration. As early as 1916 the BEF contained a 'population' larger than any single unit of government except London in all England. Haig's attitude to this feature was equally broad-minded:

.... with the whole nation at war, our object should be to employ men on the same work in war as they are accustomed to do in peace. Acting on this principle I have got Geddes at the head of all the railways and transportation, with the best practical civil and military engineers under him. At the head of the Road Directorate is Mr. Maybury, head of the Road Board in England. The docks, canals and inland water transport are being managed in the same way, i.e., by men of practical experience. To put soldiers who have no practical experience of these matters into such positions, merely because they are generals and colonels, must result in utter failure.

Haig was, in fact, a modern general, fighting Britain's first modern war.

Modern wars are costly wars; they consume lives by the million, on and off the battlefield, and it was the shock of this consumption of soldiers' lives that prompted the unthinking execration of Haig - as though one man could halt or change an industrial revolution!

What, then, was Haig's own view of the great battles of attrition in 1916 and 1917 with which his name is so fatally connected?

He certainly had no illusions about their nature; in his Despatch (6) of 21 December 1918, The Advance to Victory, he says:

The strain of those years was never ceasing, the demands they made upon the best of the Empire's manhood are now known. Yet throughout all those years, and amid the hopes and disappointments they brought with them, the confidence of our troops in final victory never wavered. Their courage and resolution rose superior to every test, their cheerfulness never failing, however terrible the conditions in which they lived and fought. By the long road they trod with so much faith and with such devoted and self-sacrificing bravery we have arrived at victory.

His Final Despatch, March 1919 (leaving no doubts about his feelings), develops the thought:

... neither the course of the war itself nor the military lessons to be drawn there from can properly be comprehended, unless the long succession of battles commenced on the Somme in 1916 and ended in November of last year on the Sambre are viewed as forming part of one great and continuous engagement..... If the operations of the past four and a half years are regarded as a single continuous campaign, there can be recognised in them the same general features and the same necessary stages which between forces of approximately equal strength have marked all the conclusive battles of history.

Haig had taught his theory of the necessary stages of war in India in 1909 and never departed from it:

1. The manoeuvre for position

2. The first clash of battle

3. The wearing-out fight

4. The decisive blow

It is, of course, the third stage - what he called 'the wearing-out fight' (in other words the three years of attrition during which four-fifths of Britain's casualties were incurred) - which has commanded so much unfavourable notice for so long. Haig's own view of it is quite clear:

In the stage of the wearing-out struggle losses will necessarily be heavy on both sides, for in it the price of victory is paid. If the opposing forces are approximately equal in numbers, in courage, in morale and in equipment, there is no way of avoiding payment of the price, or of eliminating this phase of the struggle. In former battles this stage of the conflict has rarely lasted more than a few days, and has often been completed in a few hours. When armies of millions are engaged, with the resources of great Empires behind them, it will inevitably be long. It will include violent crises of fighting which, when viewed separately and apart from the general perspective, will appear individually as great indecisive battles. To this stage belong the great engagements of 1916 and 1917 which wore down the strength of the German Armies.

So Haig made no attempt to avoid responsibility for the war of attrition; he never tried to claim credit for victory, and blame something or someone else for the hard part - e.g. subordinates, Allies, the Government, the troops, bad luck, etc. Instead, he insisted:

If the whole operations of the present war are regarded in correct perspective, the victories of the summer and autumn of 1918 will be seen to be directly dependent upon the two years of stubborn fighting that preceded them.

This, it seems to me, is the wisest statement written about the Great War. A great pity that it was totally disregarded during the peace, so that everything had to be painfully learned again the second time.

In conclusion, what is Haig's place in our military history? ...

...Haig's armies did actually themselves engage the enemy's main body. In 1916 the BEF fought ninety-five and a half identified German divisions (forty-three and a half twice, four three times, which makes a divisional total of 143). In 1917, in the Battles of Arras, Messines, Lens and Third Ypres, the BEF engaged 131 identified divisions. When the Germans attacked the British front in March-April 1918, they used 109 divisions - fifty on the first day alone.

In Haig's Final Offensive, the BEF encountered ninety-nine German divisions (some twice, some three times, some even four times).

This was the 'main body' indeed. Never, at any time, in any war, has a British army performed such feats as these.

Sir Winston Churchill, in a memorable phrase, described the year 1940 as 'the finest hour' of the British people. Objective assessment must equally describe 1918 as 'the finest hour' of the British Army, and to no-one was that fact more due than to its admirable Commander-in-Chief.

So which argument is correct: Haig the Donkey, stupid and indifferent to the slaughter his plans caused or Haig the modern General, architect of Britain's greatest military victory?

You be the judge.

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Use the information from this blog page (including the youtube clips) to prepare evidence cards about Haig's role in WW1. Use as many cards or sheets of paper as you need ( 1/4 A4 sheet should be about the right size). Write an item of evidence on one side only. It can be a quote from a historian or from Haig himself or a fact or statistic.

When you have 10 or more sheets completed, you can work with a fellow student. Shuffle the sheets and then deal them out one a time. Challenge your fellow student to decide whether each piece of evidence shows Haig in a positive or negative light. You may disagree but historians do disagree over evidence!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

1.4 "The ladies from Hell"!

This post covers the following sections of the course: the kilted regiments; the role of Scottish military personnel in terms of commitment, casualties.

"Ladies from Hell" was a nickname given by the Germans to the kilted regiments of the British Army: the Gordon Highlanders (Aberdeen and the North East), the Black Watch (Perthshire and Fife), The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Argyll, Stirling and central Scotland); The Seaforth Highlanders (Inverness and Morayshire).

The kilted regiments included the territorial battalions. These were part time soldiers who were called up for service in August 1914. They had to volunteer for service overseas but very few refused. The Territorials made a significant contribution to the fighting from the start right through to the Armistice.

The kilted regiments also included regiments raised in England such as the London Scottish and the Liverpool Scottish. Some Canadian Regiments also wore the kilt for the same reason: they were recruited from Scottish emigrants and wanted to identify themselves as Scots.

The Germans used the nickname "ladies from Hell" as an insult but the Scots took it as a compliment: it marked them out as a force to be reckoned with - aggressive soldiers who inspired fear in the enemy. Some historians have even compared this attitude to the Glasgow airport worker who attacked terrorist bombers in 2008.


However, having a reputation as a "hard man" can have its down side. Read this article from the The Sunday Times.

Historian Professor Tom Devine also says ...


“From the 18th century onwards, the Scottish regiments were the military cutting edge of the British empire and were always used in a spearhead role, and that meant huge casualties,”

Is Professor Devine correct? He makes two claims ...

1. Scottish regiments (all of them, not just the kilted regiments) were used in a "spearhead role". Another term for this is "shock troops".

2. The consequences of this was that Scottish casualties were huge. It is implied that Scottish casualties must have been higher than casualties of other British and Empire troops.

What does the evidence say?

Scottish regiments certainly made very important contributions to major battles on the western front. You can find out about Loos and the Somme on other pages of this blog. Another very important attack was the battle of Arras in 1917. This saw a concentration of 44 Scottish battalions and seven Scottish named Canadian battalions,
attacking on the first day, making it the largest concentration of Scots to have fought together. One third of the 159,000 British casualties were Scottish.

Scotland's population was around 1/10th of the population of Britain.

Figures for WW1 casualties can be unreliable and there is some argument among historians about the totals. However, here are some figures quoted by historian Niall Ferguson in his book, "The Pity of War" ...


Percentage killed of all mobilised

Grand total - 13.4%
Britain and Ireland - 11.8%
British Empire - 8.8%
Scotland - 26.4%
France - 16.8%
Turkey - 26.8%
Serbia - 37.1%
Germany - 15.4%

Percentage killed of males 15-49

Grand total - 4.0%
Britain and Ireland - 6.3%
British Empire - 0.2%
Scotland - 10.9%
France - 13.3%
Turkey - 14.8%
Serbia - 22.7%
Germany - 12.5%

Percentage killed of population

Grand total - 1.0%
Britain and Ireland - 1.6%
British Empire - 0.1%
Scotland - 3.1%
France - 3.4%
Turkey - 3.7%
Serbia - 5.7%
Germany - 3.0%

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

How important was the contribution of Scottish Regiments to British effort on the Western Front?. Make you own notes using the information on this page of the blog.

1.3 The Somme

The Battle of the Somme

Key points

Plan was similar to that of Loos:

Joint planning with French
Attack on a German "salient". (A bulge into the allied lines.)
Use of artillery. This time a massive 7 day bombardment was planned.

The plan fell apart for similar reasons:

Although the artillery bombardment was impressive, it failed to knock out the German defences which were deeply dug into the chalk uplands over which the battle was fought.
Again, the British attack came up against very heavily defended German strongholds. It was impossible for the soldiers to break through.

The consequence was that July 1st, the first day of the attack, saw 58 000 British casualties. Most of these fell in the first hour or so.

Watch this clip from a BBC documentary.


The casualties as a % of the British Army total did not include as many Scots as at Loos the year before. However, the number of Scottish troops who took part was considerable: 3 Scottish Divisions took part - 9th, 15th and 51st Highland and 51 infantry battalions took part in the battle at some time. Some Scottish battalions such as the 16 th Royal Scots who took part in the first day's attack, suffered badly. This battalion of the Royal Scots had been raised in Edinburgh and included the whole of the Heart of Midlothian first team and many other footballers and sportsmen as well as teachers, university lecturers etc. Almost three quarters of the battalion were killed or wounded on July 1st.

The Hearts memorial at Contalmaison on the Somme.

After the slaughter on the first day, the battle settled down into a battle of attrition: an attempt to grind the German defences down with a series of attacks. The battle finally ground to a halt in October 1916.

The Somme was significant because it marked the beginning of the middle phase of the war: the point at which the British army began to take over from the French as the main attacking force against the Germans. It also made the British public realise the true costs of war in terms of casualties. The Scots of course, had learned that lesson the year before at Loos.

The conduct of the battle of the Somme is also used by some historians who criticise the leadership of Douglas Haig. You will look at that debate in another post on this blog.

British "walking wounded" making their way to a field dressing station during the batlle. Notice the German prisoner (wearing a cap) walking with them.

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Draw up a table in two columns. Use the heading "The Scots Contribution at Loos and the Somme". Complete the table using the info from this page and the previous page of this blog.