Death in war is very strange. As kindly old Uncle Joe Stalin used to say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” He would frequently ease his constantly untroubled conscience with wise old peasant maxims like that one.
The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”
Let’s just take a look at a million deaths and a single death.
This account isn’t quite a million deaths but it makes a good contribution to the overall total. These are the statistics about a single night during the Second World War. They are taken from “The Bomber Command War Diaries and Operational Reference Book 1939 to 1945” by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.” This is one of the best, if not the best, reference work about the activities of Bomber Command. It is not in the slightest bit gung-ho. It is factual and leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind. And it relates the death toll both in the air and on the ground.
“April 22-23, 1944. Düsseldorf bombed by 596 aircraft….323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitoes. 29 aircraft… 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.9% of the force.”
In those 29 bombers, a minimum of 134 men were killed.
“2150 tons of bombs were dropped in this heavy attack which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. Widespread damage was caused on the ground. Among the statistics in the local report are: 56 large industrial premises hit, of which seven were completely destroyed, more than 2000 houses destroyed or badly damaged”:
“Casualties recorded by 2 PM on April 25th were 883 people killed, 593 injured and 403 still to be dug out of wrecked buildings ; at least three quarters of this last figure would have been dead.”
For my single death, I will go to the programmes of Norm Christie, one of my very favourite presenters of historical programmes on TV:
Christie always presents the Canadian point of view, which is very often different, and may well be a lot less favourable to the British ruling classes than, say, the BBC one. One of his best programmes contained a portrayal of Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian forces in World War One and a man from very humble origins. He changed the face of warfare at the time. I realised that Norm Christie would have some interesting ideas when he contrasted a photograph of Haig’s Generals with one of Currie. Do you see what makes Currie a man apart?
And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. To be continued.
18 responses to “A young German dies (1)”
He hasn’t got a moustache!
Well, to be fair, until 1916, King’s Regulations required all soldiers to grow a moustache.
I had never heard of any of this so I went to Wikipedia and the shortened version of what it says is:
“After the Crimean war, regulations were introduced that prevented soldiers of all ranks from shaving above their top lip, in essence making moustaches compulsory. This remained in place until 1916, when the regulation was abolished by an Army Order dated October 6th 1916. However, there is considerable evidence in photographs and film footage that the earlier regulations were widely ignored and that many British soldiers of all ranks were clean-shaven even before 1916. This was often because the penalty for not growing a moustache was rarely enforced.”
Another point would be that I have no idea when the picture was taken although Haig was only appointed as Commander-in-Chief BEF on December 10th 1916 which must mean his entire reign was in the “moustache free” era.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter for me. Arthur Currie’s wife was not a personal friend of the royal family. Arthur Currie was from a poor background and with his talents and innovations worked his way up to the rank he held entirely through his own merits.
Stalin was right, at least in THAT quote anyway. I think that’s probably why people prefer the eye witness account stories I post rather than the factual ones.
Norm Christie obviously thinks like us and believes you need a well-round look back to get the complete picture. Great article, John.
Thank you very much. I very much appreciate your kind words. I like Norm Christie because he seems to believe that there are basic rules of human decency to follow in our conduct and above all, that even if war is terrible, that is no excuse to waste men’s lives.
What an interesting thought: And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. We accept television presenters and those who produce documentaries at face value giving little thought to their backgrounds, family and friends relationships, and previous or off-screen activities. I wonder if we, the general public, would be so quick to accept what is being presented if we knew more about those doing the presenting. Interesting. Thanks for bringing this up in your posting today.
For me, the basic problem is that a lot of history books about WW1 are just trying to whitewash the total incompetency of the people in charge. That desire to defend incompetency comes because those people in charge were given their jobs because of who they were, not what they could do. Such situations are bound to arise in a society which was almost entirely a hierarchy, with kings, lords and ladies and so on. And quite frankly, a lot of the makers of TV programmes come from the same privileged background which they feel they need to defend.
One thinks also of the Battle of Jutland where Jellicoe’s careful and measured approach was undermined by Beatty’s recklessness, but the blame for the debacle was laid at Jellicoe’s feet since Beatty was drawn from the Anglo-Irish landed gentry.
REPLY: Thanks a lot Chris. I must confess I don’t know as much as I should do about the Royal Navy in WW1, but I have continually been amazed about the origins of Haig’s underlings. Many of them have half a line or more of initials in their Wikipedia entry with relatively few of them medals for bravery on the battlefield. I found out yesterday that Haig, who was helped enormously by his wife’s status as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, was also in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.
No matter what group one represents, independent thought is difficult. I wonder. sometimes what sort of world we might live in if as has been said we didn’t walk into the future looking backwards.
An interesting article John. It’s rather tragic that we take a single death as important yet confine wholesale human slaughter to mere statistics. I look forward to part two!
I hope you enjoy it. Having touched on the deaths of 887,858 young men and women, I’m going to see how Norm Christie sees the death of just one young man, and how the man who killed him felt about it.
Million deaths and to what purpose ?
Well, accidentally, a lot was changed. An empire was lost in Germany and in Russia and the Austro-Hungarian empire went the same way. Political opinions became much more left wing in Europe with the rise of communism in many European countries. In Great Britain the tiny fraction of the population allowed to vote went up from 7 million to 21.4 million voters out of a population of 44 million.
But all of the original objectives were pretty well forgotten. And the million deaths was in the UK alone. Overall it was in the region of 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel who were killed in the conflict. Absolutely pointless, especially as it made WW2 and Adolf Hitler possible.
Yes, it must have been terrible for people who lived through 1st world war to see the 2nd one.
The main difference between Arthur Currie and the “establishment” Generals was that in 1914 he embezzled military funds to keep himself from bankruptcy after his business took a downturn.
It was fortunate that two of his colleagues covered for him by lending money as his reputation for being a great leader of men would have difficult to acquire from a prison cell.
Well that’s the first I’ve heard of that but if it’s true it’s clearly reprehensible by our standards today, although I have no idea what the officer class in general were capable of on the corruption front.
All the other snow white generals in the picture though, were keen enough to take up Currie’s ideas which won the Battle of Vimy Ridge, ideas which according to Wikipedia were “technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training”.
Embezzlement harms only money. Military incompetence costs other men their lives.
It’s a case of treating all generals equally.
If you criticise Haig for being part of the establishment why not criticise Currie for using the establishment to cover up his criminality?
His embezzlement of money meant for uniforms could have cost lives, but that’s venturing into the realms of alternative history.
The Canadian Encyclopedia says “Fighting off bankruptcy, Currie had in 1914 diverted over $10,000 of the 50th Regiment’s money to cover his personal debts. In 1917, the affair came to the attention of Prime Minister Borden, who refused to consider court-martialling Canada’s best soldier. Currie borrowed money to repay the funds, but the rumour damaged his reputation among politicians at home. In contrast, he was well-respected on the battlefront as a military leader.”
I knew personally two WW1 veterans and they had no respect whatsoever, for the cowards in the comfy chateau. In fact the word would be “hatred”. They actually singled out Haig for their particular hatred.