Volume 2, Issue 2 - EDITORIAL
‘A pretty deplorable piece of work’
So said Michael Howard in his review of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys way back in 1961. Since then, of course, revisionist histories of the First World War have become the mainstream, shaping the work of a new generation of scholars and finally putting Private Baldrick’s ‘boom, boom, boom’ analysis to rest.
Such a state of affairs has been hard won, driven by the research and writing of a large number of scholars. Amongst these, several members of the British Commission for Military History have been instrumental: Correlli Barnett, Brian Bond, Paddy Griffiths, Peter Simkins, John Lee, Chris McCarthy, Ian Beckett, Gary Sheffield, David French, Hew Strachan, John Bourne, Charles Messenger, Paul Harris, Stephen Badsey, Bill Philpott, Michael Orr, Nigel Cave, Gordon Corrigan and Richard Holmes, the late President of the BCMH, have all played an important part in tempering criticism of the First World War with a greater understanding of how the war was fought.
As this issue attests, the result of these efforts has been multiple. In the first instance, the revisionists have contributed to an intellectual climate that has enabled current researchers to move beyond the mud, blood and poppycock. Thus in this issue we have papers on aesthetics and logistics; the operational plans of the Russians and the mobilisation of the Poles; the Indian Army and colonial mobilisation in Northern Rhodesia. Secondly, revisionist history has contributed to a mobilisation of the public who are now more engaged in matters relating to the First World War than ever before. Indeed, as Professor Richard Grayson shows in his article on crowdsourcing methods, ‘Citizen Historians’ now play an important part in the analysis of the historical record itself.
Lastly, contemporary scholars, some of whom are members of the British Commission for Military History, have been able to play a small part in helping the British Army reconsider the lessons of the First War. Here it is a pleasure to note that members of the Commission such as Mungo Melvin, Bill Philpott, Jonathan Boff, Jonathan Bailey, Spencer Jones, Bob Foley, John Ross, David Zabecki, Tim Gale, Tony Cowan and several others have all played important roles in shaping the perspectives of those who might be called on to fight in today’s conflicts.
Needless to say this won’t be the only issue of the BJMH to be focused on the events of 1914-18 but we are very pleased that this issue showcases how far the history of the First War has changed since Alan Clark published The Donkeys.
DR MATTHEW FORD, EDITOR BJMH