Home > General > A good read — The Smoke and the Fire by John Terraine

A good read — The Smoke and the Fire by John Terraine

A cool look at WW1. It blows away many of the preconceptions. For instance Haig wasn’t the unfeeling fool as portrayed and there are some pretty amazing statistics, for instance the Royal Artillery  expanded from 4,083 officers and 88,837 Other Ranks to 29,990 Officers and 518,790 Other Ranks  between 1914-18; and that was just the artillery and just the British. Imagine the logistical nightmare this must have presented.

We learned many hard lessons in WW1 but forgotten by WW2.

In this book the only politician who seems to emerge with much credit is Abraham Lincoln who appeared to have an understanding of industrialised war and its effect on strategy. The other politicians particularly Lloyd George and Churchill don’t emerge with great credit.


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Categories: General
  1. oldmovieguy
    February 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing and some historians seem blessed with it in ample measure. Of course Churchill had his faults, would anyone care to mention anyone who has walked this planet who has not. But he was the focal rallying point for the British people in WWII and perception at the time is what counts. JFK is another leader who has come in for his share of brickbats since his life was snuffed out but without him I am convinced we would all be floating around in the upper atmosphere whole the Earth beneath was a smouldering charnel house.

  2. February 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

    The Great War has fascinated me ever since I read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, in 1986. It made me realise what a truly shocking conflict it was. I have always been struck by a line in a book of poetry by someone, I have forgotten his name, who had fought and survived. It was dedicated to ‘The man I used to be’ and symbolised the loss of innocence brought about by the war; not just his own innocence, but that of the whole of Europe.
    Birdsong remains one of my all time favourite novels.

    Do you really mean Abraham Lincoln? If so, I am not sure it is fair to compare him with any politician from WW1 seeing as he had been dead for 50 years and the characters of the two wars were very different. I think the fact that Churchill did not come out well, says more about the nature of the war and its vast scale than it does about the man himself. He proved himself, before and after WWI what a great man he was and yet even he managed to make a mess of things. Lesser men like Haig, never stood a chance, especially in the eyes of those who did not have to make those really tough decisions.

    Niall Ferguson, in his book, Empire, suggests that the Liberal Government of Asquith declared war because not to have done so would have meant electoral defeat and a return to Tory rule, something they could not bear. If true, that was perhaps the most shocking aspect of the War, especially when one considers the consequences.

    There are some interesting snippets here.
    http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/britain_war_declared.htm

  3. February 12, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Sipu

    Lincoln is mentioned because the American Civil War was the first truly industrialised war, which is part of the subject.

    Yes I’ve read Ferguson’s book and the reference to Asquith and the Liberals, it is pretty shocking. Lloyd George wasn’t much better, he sold the army out on a couple of occasions.

    OMG

    Sorry about Churchill, but I’m not a fan. All you can say about him is that he was a very successful politician, which was good for him and not so good for others.

    Neville Chamberlain ‘enjoys’ a bad press, but without the year that the Munich agreement gave us the RAF would not have been equipped with the modern aircraft (i.e. Hurricanes & Spitfires) in sufficient quantity to win the Battle of Britain and if we’d lost that we would have been truly f***d. If Churchill had had his way most of those aircraft would have been squandered in France; it was Dowding who prevented this happening his reward was to be sacked after the battle.

  4. February 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Although Churchill’s own experience was gained in the Sudan, and in South Africa in a junior position, and his strategic vision was flawed, he provided the country with the leadership, spirit, and sheer bloody-mindedness that was needed at the time, and is revered for it, quite righly in my opinion.

  5. February 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I haven’t read the book and I haven’t really much background knowledge of the author.

    A swift Google tells me that he was not an academic, but a BBC journalist for some years.

    I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but I would be interested to see what he has to say.
    He was considered to be controversial and some of his conclusions were lacking in substance.

    I may well reads the book, it sounds interesting.

  6. February 12, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    “read the book”

    Grr.

  7. February 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Araminta

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say. It’s academic enough for me.

    John Alfred Terraine (15 January 1921 – 28 December 2003), though not permanently associated with any academic institution, was a leading British military historian. He is best known for his persistent defence of Douglas Haig and also as the lead screenwriter on the BBC’s landmark 1960s documentary The Great War.
    Terraine was educated at Stamford School and at Keble College, Oxford. After leaving Oxford, in 1943, he joined BBC radio and continued to work for the BBC for 18 years, latterly as its Pacific and South African Programme Organiser.
    Among other series, Terraine was associate producer and chief screenwriter of the 1963-64 Great War television series, and co-wrote its sequel, The Lost Peace (1965). After resigning from the BBC in 1961, he worked as a freelance television screenwriter.
    Terraine produced 16 books, most of them dealing with aspects of the great European wars of the 20th century and numerous articles and book reviews for The Daily Telegraph. His last book, Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945 was published in 1989.
    He was the Founder President of the Western Front Association from 1980 to 1997, after which he became its Patron. For sheer scholarship, the quality and accessibility of his writing and for his debunking of historical myths, Terraine was one of the outstanding military historians of the 20th century.[1]
    In 1964, he edited a collection of diaries written by General James Jack during the First World War. They became a bestseller in the United Kingdom.
    He was for many years a member of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies; he had been awarded the Institute’s Chesney Gold Medal in 1982. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1987.
    [edit]

  8. February 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Yes, I read that too, Jazz.

    As I said, his background is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I haven’t read the book so I really have no idea, but it sounds interesting.

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