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Tag: Western Front

Ironic and Iconic: My relationship with Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory

Written by Mark Connelly

Every now and then a book comes along that meets truly the hyperbole of blurbs and testimonials found in reviews and adorning dustjacket covers. For me, one of those texts is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. First published by Oxford University Press in 1975, it has achieved something rare for an academic text: global fame and global notoriety. His argument that the Great War ushered in irony as the dominant mode of modern discourse was ever-present set people talking, thinking and writing, some furiously, others ecstatically. My first engagement with it was as a teenager and through the lenses of others. The first was provided by an English teacher at school who, on finding out about my interest in the First World War, urged me to read it. With the persistence of a Great War general hammering away at a strongpoint regardless of cost, he kept returning to the recommendation. I noted his enthusiasm and realised there was something special about this work, but I had a pile of other war books to get through including Wyn Griffiths’s Up to Mametz and the diaries of Edwin Campion Vaughan published under the title Some Desperate Glory. My next encounter with it came at Christmas when my parents indulged me with another pile of First World War books as presents. Among them were two other seminal texts (if you’re unlucky, I’ll write about those in another blog!), John Terraine’s The Smoke and the Fire and The White Heat. Reading The Smoke and the Fire was epiphanic (that’s a great word, isn’t it?). I went from being a full-blown Joan Littlewoodite to a full-blown revisionist in one move. And of course, a significant casualty was my open-mindedness about Fussell. This Fussell chap now looked distinctly suspect and out of his depth. As Bertie Wooster might have said, ‘Fussell can eat cake as far as I am concerned’, and that was him struck from my reading list.

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The Forging of a Great Commander: Allenby of Armageddon

Written by Julian Daggett.

General Allenby, as Basil Liddell Hart observed, was something of an enigma. In the public eye he became both a great and popular First World War general. His war, however, did not start well. The official historian, James Edmonds, held that his career in France was one of ‘gross stupidity’. Allenby was a cavalry officer; at the outbreak of the war he commanded the Cavalry Division and – by late 1915 – Third Army.  He also commanded a fearsome reputation, being known as ‘the Bull’ – a rough, headstrong general who just butted forward in a blind sort of fashion. The initial, tactically impressive, triumph of Third Army at The Battle of Arras (1917) almost changed Allenby’s reputation on the Western Front.  But the triumph was short-lived; the fighting soon turned into the familiar attritional grind and Allenby reverted to type.  Three of his divisional commanders broke ranks and complained to Haig about Allenby’s murderous orders. In June 1917 Allenby was recalled to Britain.

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Spaces of War: Spatial Perspectives of Modern War and Conflict, Conference Report

Written by Oliver Parken.

Space plays a central role in the conduct and experience of war. Combat and violence are words which bring immediate associations to physical and imagined space––the First World War and the visceral imagery of the ‘Western Front’, for example. Yet as warfare transformed and expanded during the twentieth-century, so too did its spatial dimensions.  Organised jointly by Oliver Parken and Ellie Matthews, ‘Spaces of War: Spatial Perspectives of Modern War and Conflict’ sought to question the relationship between space and place in the context of modern warfare––exposing the myriad ‘sites’ through which space runs as a conceptual theme for scholars working on modern war and conflict. Although it was anticipated the event would stretch across a range of contexts, particularly in terms of time and culture, the final programme of papers focused on the twentieth-century and the experience/aftermath of the World Wars.

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(Re-)Visiting Ypres

Written by Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel.

Visiting Ypres, or Ieper to use its modern name, is an amazing experience. First, there is the sheer wonder of wandering around a seemingly historic city which, on closer inspection, proves to be of very recent completion. Then, there is the impressive scale of the massive Cloth Hall, the great medieval trading market which attracted merchants from across Europe. But, that too proves to be a bit of curiosity when stared at, as the mix of very smooth, sharply cut stone merges with the pock-marked, scarred and worn pillars along the ground floor. Next to the Cloth Hall is a soaring medieval cathedral, but enter inside and it feels so new you almost expect it to squeak as it comes out of the shrink-wrap. Finally, there is the Menin Gate, a huge memorial to the British and Commonwealth missing of ‘the salient’. Tucked into the ramparts, the Menin Gate almost leaps out on the visitor walking along the street from the central square (the Grote Markt). Of course, it is the Menin Gate that provides the key to the rest of the mystery, for it commemorates the fact that this charming West Flanders city witnessed some of the most intense and prolonged fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. During that fighting, Ypres was reduced to rubble and ashes only to rise again in replica form. And that is an underlying theme of our new book, Ypres: the recycling, rebuilding, reconstruction of images, stories, and histories of Ypres which stands alongside the physical construction of memorials, monuments and cemeteries in a reconstructed landscape. It is about construction and reconstruction; the encoding and reinterpreting of a major historical event within its original space, and how the battlefield of Ypres could be brought home.

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‘What the Poppy means’: The Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal

Written by Amy Harrison.

On 17 October 2018, the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) posted a news article entitled ‘No, we did not ban poppies or Remembrance Day at Cambridge University…’. Their piece follows a series of articles appearing in national newspapers (although predominantly tabloids) which suggested that the students had voted against a motion to increase and promote Remembrance events among the student population as these were thought to ‘glorify’ the conflict. This news led to a severe backlash for the Union involved, with even the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough telling the Daily Telegraph that the motion brought ‘“great shame” to Cambridge and shows “disdain” for the armed forces’. However, as with many controversial news stories, it was not all as simple as it appeared to be, and the 17 October response hit back at these assumptions. The CUSU condemned the actions of the press, suggesting that they ‘have used Remembrance Day and Cambridge students as political football’ and led to death threats and online abuse being sent to students involved. The main motion (to advertise Remembrance Day more fully) was adapted to include all those affected by war, and both were defeated in the understanding the Union’s engagement with Remembrance Day would continue as normal.

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