The New Army and the Somme

The cartoon from Punch displays a happy soldier of war. This conveys the thoughts that war was not too horrific and a successful thing. The soldier also has wounds, which are there to make the portrayal look realistic and to show that this soldier was happy to receive these wounds for his country – patriotism. Another noticeable part of the image is that the soldier is smoking, this brings across the idea that war was somewhat chilled out and stress-free.

This therefore displays war to be great, but one must consider how reliable it is. Magazines, like ‘Punch’, would have been under censorship by DORA (Defence Of the Realm Act) during the war; therefore cartoons like this one couldn’t undermine morale. Also, magazines would have wanted to boost morale anyway to contribute to the war effort. One other reason why this source is reasonably unreliable is because magazines only knew what they were told by the government (generals press conferences). These three points mean that if war wasn’t that good then the authorities would have certainly changed the cartoon (or censored it) to make it look as if it was. Therefore, if war was nothing like this image displays, then it could have been liable that this image was propaganda, so one must look at sources B, C and D to find out how enjoyable war really was.

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Source B is a reliable source, for it is a diary entry. This means that the author (William Strang) would have had no reason to lie. It shows that war was dreadful but it is not particularly useful as it only shows the way it was for one person, at one place, and at one time. Although it’s unlikely that Strang was unique with this view.

Source C is probably not so reliable as the authorities would have edited this letter if it undermined the war effort. As it is a letter to the home front the author would have known he risked not having it sent if it could undermine reader’s morale, as commanders had the right to delete things that they thought unsuitable. The author would therefore write a jolly letter for this reason, and also so that his family didn’t worry about him. This source is quite useful as it gives a general idea of what trench warfare was like; however, it’s hard to trust it very far.

Source D is reliable as it is a field officer’s report, and so it is his duty not to lie. It is not very useful though as it is only the report of one day at one time. It may therefore be quite general; in reality what the source describes didn’t happen very often at all. It certainly shows that not everyone felt like the man in the cartoon.

Overall, these three sources show that the cartoon from ‘Punch’ may have contained a certain amount of propaganda, although equally likely some soldiers probably did enjoy war.

On the basis of these sources, and your own knowledge, how far can you justify Haig’s strategy?

Haig’s strategy for the Somme is displayed in Source A. This is a reliable source as it is a war instruction, and would therefore have not been distorted by bias or propaganda. This is a very useful source as it is an outline of Haig’s plans and instructions. ‘The third and fourth armies will undertake offensive operations … with the object of relieving the pressure on the French’. This shows that what Haig said and planned in public was with good intentions, but his private plans were very different. Instead of just backing up the French, Haig wanted to take the offensive one step further. He wanted to break through the enemy lines, which he knew was an idea that he wouldn’t win support for, so he kept it to himself and just tried it in the Somme. This was not a totally selfish decision by Haig, as there were others pressurising him to do something to prove the English were succeeding. Also, Joffre (French commander in chief) wanted Haig to make a British attack to relieve the stress of his French troops. Haig had confidence in his tactics so he was very willing to make the attack.

Source B, a reliable source as it is a diary entry, shows that the strain on the British troops at Somme was immense. This shows Haig’s plan may not have been to great – in the sense that it placed great burdens on the troops, although this source only gives the opinion of one person, at one place, at one time, therefore it is not very useful.

Source C is not so reliable as it is a letter. The author would have written it knowing that if he wrote things that would lower the morale of the readers the letter would not be sent, and it would upset his family if he said the truth. Thus, the author would have written a more cheerful than accurate letter. However, the source would show that all was going fine at the battle, and the British were being very successful – but we can’t really believe it.

Source D disagrees with this. It shows how troops were trying to leave the battlefield, showing a low morale. It is reliable as it is a military report, although it is not very useful as it is of one place, on one day.

Source E is another military report and hence also reliable – for the reports are official and they would use them to decide new tactics. This is a German report and it shows that the British had stupid and reckless tactics. It proves that Haig had not thought his tactics out enough, but just sent the British troops in like lambs to a slaughterhouse. It is quite a useful source, although it only depicts one day of the battle and one section of the front.

Source F is a very useful source as it consists of comments Haig made during the devastation more commonly known as the battle of the Somme. It shows how after one day of losses he considered that the British still had a chance and decided to keep sending them to their death. This backs up my idea that Haig was making stupid decisions, with a good strategy, but bad tactics. One cannot comment on how reliable these two quotes are as we are not told where they are from.

Source G is not very reliable as it is a book about war written by a German general, therefore one may expect some bias in it – although the extract seems reasonably fair. However, it is useful as the author could have collected a lot of information before he wrote the book, and he would have had a lot of experience himself. He (General von Falkenhayn) says that the decision to make a mass break-through was stupid as the defenders always win – even when the attackers have an ‘extreme accumulation of men’.

Source H is another book but this was written much later. One can presume it is quite reliable, as the author would have collected a lot of accounts to write it, although one cannot tell whether there is any bias. It makes the point that to use tactics like Haig’s then one would have needed ‘walkie-talkies’ and these did not exist at the time in question. He also says that no one had the slightest idea of what was happening during the Somme, and nor could they do anything about it.

Source J is a poem, and is therefore not particularly reliable as it would be edited to make it more literally appealing (rather than using precisely factual descriptions). Sassoon tells us, in this poem, what the soldiers thought about Haig. However, it reinforces the idea that Haig was an ‘incompetent swine’ who sent his soldiers to die.

From these sources we can see that there were some factors which could take the fault away from Haig. One of which was that he was under pressure from both England and France. Also whatever he tried resulted in sacrifices, because the opposition (Germans) always managed to bring in more supporting troops to reinforce them. Another point is that Haig’s equipment was not really good enough for what he was trying to achieve.

Overall I feel these sources show that although Haig achieved his main aim – to relieve pressure on the French, he went the wrong way about achieving it. His methods were inhuman and uncaring for the lives of his own men. It is very difficult to justify Haig’s tactics from an emotional perspective, but this is war that is being assessed, and thus one must consider Haig successful in achieving his aims. As a general Haig was successful in his task, for he hindered the Germans a considerable amount. Although it is also the job of a general to take care of his troops, and this is where Haig failed.

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