British World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg


This video from Britain says about itself:

WW1 Poem: ‘Dead Man’s Dump‘ by Isaac Rosenberg ~ Verdun ‘Feb 21 – Dec 18’ 1916

21 February 2016

One hundred years ago, on February 21st, 1916, a Monday, the first shots were fired in the battle for the French fortress town of Verdun.

German and French soldiers fought of every last metre of ground, making it the longest battle of the war, almost twice as long as any other encounter.

In the 303 days of this so called ‘meat grinder’, close to 750,000 men died, were wounded or simply disappeared, pulverised to tiny, unrecognisable bits by shelling from as far away as 17 miles, or eviscerated on the end of a bayonet in man-to-man, whites of their eyes grappling. A French soldier Albert Joubaire summed up his experience at Verdun: “What a bloodbath, what horrid images, what slaughter! Hell cannot be this dreadful”.

By Ben Cowles in Britain, 5 April 2017:

Isaac Rosenberg: The war-time poet time forgot

CHRIS SEARLE speaks to the Star about an East End poet who met an untimely end in the trenches of World War I and how his work has inspired not only his new book but his entire life

CHRIS SEARLE has been sending in his handwritten jazz columns to the Star on a weekly basis for years and, while old hands might be familiar with his poetry and politics, our new readers probably have no idea just how fascinating a life he has led.

It might surprise both new and old readers to find out how our jazz correspondent’s entire life has been inspired by an early 20th century poet as he revealed when I spoke with him last week about his new book Whitechapel Boy: A Reading of the Poetry of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg is one of the lesser-known poets of the first world war. The son of working-class Jewish immigrants, his family moved from Bristol to Stepney Green in London’s East End in 1897. “I owe to him and his poetry”, Searle says. “Everything that I’ve ever tried to do has been originally inspired by Rosenberg.”

“Ever since I’d first read his poetry at Leeds University in the early ’60s, I’d been fascinated by him. The power of his poetry, the way in which he wrote and what he wrote about completely captured me.

“He was a working-class boy, who spoke Yiddish at his home and only learnt English at school. But he mastered the language to such an extent that he wrote some of the great poems of English literature.

Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were officers and could go into their underground shelters where they had desks and such, but all Rosenberg had was the trenches.

“If you read some of the poems he wrote in the last part of his life when he was in the trenches, they’re very profound and humane, with an enormous depth and understanding of the power of English verse.”

Searle was born in Romford in 1943 and has been a teacher his whole adult life. His early career saw him teach in Canada, Tobago, Grenada and Mozambique. He has lived the past 30 years in Sheffield, but it was his fascination with Rosenberg’s life that brought him back to Britain and to teach in Stepney Green in the early 1970s.

“I lived and worked in the streets where Rosenberg lived. The school where I taught was in the same row where he had lived 60 years before. It was almost as if he was there with me while I was teaching.”

Searle saw many of the children he taught in East London as being in the same linguistic position as his literary hero. They were bilingual and learnt to speak English at school. His main focus was to get the children to write their own poetry. He says the poetry they wrote came out of his love for Rosenberg.

“But the of course, I found myself in deep trouble in 1971. I made an anthology of my students’ poems called Stepney Words and sought to get the permission of the school to sponsor and publish it. But the governors of the school, who were mainly right-wing Anglican priests and City businessmen, forbade me to publish it.

“They thought the poetry was too gloomy, too realistic. They wanted the lighter side of local life, but the children had written about social problems, about bad housing, about racism and about the loneliness of city life.”

Searle went ahead and published Stepney Words and, when the governors saw what he had done, they sacked him.

“When the children heard I got the sack for publishing their poems, they came out on strike. For three days they refused to go into school and rallied and campaigned outside on the green outside.

“It took me two years, but I eventually got back into the school. But really it was the children’s strike and the publicity that it generated that was responsible for getting me back into the school plus, of course, the tremendous support from my union, the National Union of Teachers.”

The time in which Rosenberg lived in London, the early part of the 20th century, was a crucial period for the working class. After centuries of oppression, they finally began to organise.

“In the years before World War I, Rosenberg was one of the so-called ‘Whitechapel boys’ — a group of artists, poets and political activists on the left. They were all members of the Stepney and Whitechapel Socialist League and gave terrific support to the tailors in their strike in 1906 and the 1911 strike of dockers and transport workers.”

During this time, however, Rosenberg never escaped sheer poverty and so, despite his deep opposition to the war, Rosenberg enlisted in the British army in 1916.

“Some people became conscientious objectors, like Bertrand Russell, but Rosenberg was so impoverished that the only way he could see his family surviving was to join the war. When you were a soldier, you were paid what was called a separation allowance, which went to your parents.

“He only joined the army so that his mother and father wouldn’t starve. It was the situation for thousands of working-class young men when the war started.

“Most of the famous poets of the first world war, people like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, were officers. So, although they endured terrifying experiences, they had a very different life to the privates.

“Rosenberg talks about being a private as being akin to absolute slavery and, of course, because he was physically very weak, working class and Jewish, he was subject to all the authoritarianism and racism of army life.

“To write poetry from the depths and degradation from the trenches was almost impossible, but he managed it. And that’s another extraordinary facet of his achievement. You know, the officers could go into their underground shelters where they had desks and such, but Rosenberg had nothing like that. All he had was the trenches. He had no resources, no materials.

“Here am I sitting at a table with a cup of tea writing about jazz and Rosenberg wrote a poem half-covered in mud, with dying people one side of him, with shots raging, shells exploding and shrapnel going everywhere and yet he still managed to write such works as Dead Man’s Dump — a poem of enormous power and humanity, which I believe to be perhaps the greatest war poem in the English language.”

Rosenberg never made it back from the trenches. He was killed on April 1 1918 at 27 years of age.

Searle believes Rosenberg has been largely ignored and that his work is all too often dismissed as non-mainstream, non-English. This, he says, is a form of cultural racism similar to the type he dealt with throughout his life.

“When he moved into Stepney as a boy, his local [Conservative] MP was a member of the British Brothers League, which was a fascist organisation. He called the Jewish immigrants ‘the off-scum of Europe’. Imagine your local MP referring to you as that.”

Searle’s book is an attempt to redress this and bring his work into the spotlight. “The thing about Rosenberg is that his deep humanity shines through his work. He was an internationalist.

“Although he was immersed in the horror of war, he hated it. He was a deep critic of it. He talked about his ‘brothers dear’, the ordinary soldiers not only of the British army but also of the German army that he faced.

“In one of his most famous poems, Break of Day in the Trenches, it’s dawn, which was the hour of the most likely and imminent attack from one army against the other, and he sees a rat crossing back and forth across No man’s land.

“The rat becomes a symbol of unity, of fraternisation between the German soldiers and British soldiers, most of whom in the front lines would be young and working class, from all over the world in the British army.

“In the last weeks of his life, he was trying to write. He could only write fragments because of the conditions in the trenches, but he was writing a verse play called The Unicorn. It’s about a slave revolt led by an African man, who is a leader of immense intellectual qualities, who leads his people away from oppression. And this was 1918. He was in the French trenches in the most horrendous conditions and here he was writing of Africa freeing itself of oppression.

“I used to teach in Africa, in Mozambique. And that was deeply inspiring for me to know that Rosenberg had written in that way when back in 1918 in the most terrifying of conditions.

“He is a symbol of working-class internationalism. He hasn’t been portrayed that way to any great extent, but to me that’s what he means.”

Chris Searle’s Whitechapel Boy is released today (April 5), with a book launch taking place at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, 277 Bancroft Rd, London E1 4DQ, 6.15pm. Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s web editor. You can chat with him on Twitter via @Cowlesz.

Advertisements

World War I, May 1918


This video about Scotland says about itself:

Striking workers in Glasgow circa 1918. Archive film 99413

World War One billboard poster of Kitchener pointing – “Your Country Needs YOU”. Soldiers marching past the generals during an inspection. Newly-signed up soldiers board trains heading for the frontline, waved off by their wives and children. Women workers in good spirits heading for the factory. Inside the factory where women are doing carpentry. Women at work on the railways and munitions plants. Lloyd George inspects the munitions works and talks to the women there. Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson. Demonstrations or strikes near end of World War One on the homefront in Glasgow, Scotland. Bagpipers lead the victorious soldiers through streets.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Looking back a century to May 1918

ON MAY 1 1918 Glasgow experienced a massive May Day demonstration. For those taking part, it demonstrated that “patriotic” support for the war (with hundreds of thousands of casualties suffered since the German advance on the Western front had begun on March 21), ceased to be an argument on the table.

Some 90,000 people came on to the streets, bound for Glasgow Green. Speakers from 20 platforms were then heard. The British Socialist Party’s The Call soon afterwards commented: “It was quite plain to all that that great assembly of workers were out for Peace and the overthrow of Capitalism.” There were many shouts for the release of leading socialist agitator John Maclean, then in Duke Street prison, awaiting trial on May 9.

The first of May was also the day of the appeals heard in the London Inner Sessions at Clerkenwell by philosopher Bertrand Russell and peace campaigner and socialist Joan Beauchamp against their February sentences for encouraging “disaffection” in the Tribunal, the organ of the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF).

Russell’s sentence of six months in the “second division” was now upgraded to the privileged regime of the first, while Joan Beauchamp, previously given a fine or three months in prison, now received one month’s jail, having refused to pay the fine. Russell’s sentence was adjusted in the light of his being “a man of great distinction”, unlike, the judicial thinking may have run, the usual riff-raff of anti-conscriptionists.

London’s May Day meeting, unlike Glasgow’s, was to be on Sunday May 5, but was abruptly prohibited by the Home Office.

A year earlier, more than 100,000 people had turned out for the celebration, and another big gathering was expected. But late on May 3, police served notice on the Karl Marx Centenary Committee (comprising the British Socialist Party (BSP), Independent Labour Party and trade union branches etc.) that the meeting and its associated processions were outlawed by the Home Secretary. It had been planned that seven marches would lead into Finsbury Park from different directions, and that fifty speakers would address the crowd from eight platforms.

The ban was promoted by the Daily Express, owned by the present Minister of Information, Lord Beaverbrook. On May 3 it proclaimed: “The peacetime toleration that permitted every addle-pated orator to let off steam is no longer possible. This proposed pacifist orgy is a direct incitement to a breach of the peace. They include however, middle-class pacifists … and various representatives of a mysterious body that calls itself the Karl Marx Centenary Committee.”

There was no mystery about the committee, or about the courage of the people (perhaps a thousand) who braved the ban to gather in Finsbury Park on May 5 to listen to speakers before being dispersed violently by mounted police.

Three miles away, at Highgate Cemetery, another show of defiance took place. A good number of people wishing to take part in a commemorative event at the grave of Karl Marx a century after his birth were prevented from doing so. Eventually the police allowed a deputation to go in to place wreaths on the grave. One wreath was the offering of “ambassador” Maxim Litvinov, who had been refused, like his government, recognition. It carried the inscription “From Russia, the first Socialist Republic, in memory of Karl Marx, who showed the workers of the world the path to self-emancipation.” Litvinov had by now moved with his family from West Hampstead to new rooms at 11 Bigwood Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, and his BSP-published pamphlet The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Rise and Meaning was available for 1 shilling.

On May 8 two leading members of the NCF were up before the Bow Street beak. These were Lydia Smith, undisclosed editor of the Tribunal, and Violet Tillard (“Tilly”), general secretary. They had refused to give police the address of the printer of the internally circulated NCF News, after the breaking-up and confiscation of the Tribunal printer’s equipment in April. Tilly was singled out, fined heavily, and appealed.

John Maclean’s trial took place on May 9 before judge and jury in Edinburgh. The previous night 30 Scottish socialists had tramped from Glasgow to the trial venue. The charges against him were of sedition, of prejudicing recruiting, and of attempting to cause disaffection, and were based on his recent speeches.

The Times on May 10 solemnly caricatured the prosecution case. “The prisoner advocated ‘downing’ tools, and said that socialists should break all laws. He advised the workers to take control of Glasgow City Chambers, the Post Office, and the banks, and urged that the House of Commons should be superseded by a Soviet, saying that he did not care whether they met in the usual place or at Buckingham Palace.”

If accurate, that would have been sufficiently outlandish to make prosecution ludicrous. Refusing to plead guilty or not guilty, Maclean gave a lengthy speech which newspapers did not care to report. It included, prophetically:

“If one side or the other wins [World War I], then the revenge will come … In view of the fact that the great powers are not prepared to stop the war until the one side or the other is broken down, it is our business as members of the working class to see that this war ceases today, not only to save the lives of the young men of the present, but also to stave off the next great war … I am out for an absolute reconstruction of society, on a co-operative basis, throughout all the world; when we stop the need for armies and navies, we stop the need for war.”

The middle-class jury found him guilty as charged without needing to retire, and the judge found sentencing an easy chore. He was given five years’ penal servitude.

“He is sentenced to this fearful punishment simply for talking”, commented Labour’s George Lansbury-edited Herald.

Within a fortnight the Clyde District Defence Committee was formed to work for Maclean’s release, while Maclean went on hunger strike.

On May 11 the Herald’s front page contained only the words “TERMS OF THE SECRET TREATIES (Special Number)” and inside seven pages were devoted to these deals for distribution of territorial extensions among Allied countries. The editor of the booklet on the treaties which had appeared the previous month, F Seymour Cocks, declared that the Allied governments had declined to speak out on the subject “because their mouths are stopped by the secret agreements … because their voices are choked by the ink and parchment of the shameful treaties they have signed.”

The previous day in Ireland, arrests of Sinn Fein leaders had taken place — of Eamonn de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Constance Markievicz and others, more than a hundred in all. According to Lord French, military viceroy for Ireland, they had been in treasonable communication with the enemy. As to this, the Daily Mail was confident, “there could be no doubt.” In fact those arrested were Irish patriots, interned for their independence activity and for their hostility to the conscription of Irishmen which the government had not yet dared to enforce.

On May 19 the annual conference of the Workers’ Suffrage Federation, which now became the Workers’ Socialist Federation, opened. Besides re-electing Sylvia Pankhurst as secretary, the conference declared its opposition to all war, demanded self-determination for all nations, and the release of John Maclean.

One leading conscription-refuser, at that moment in Liverpool’s jail, was Fenner Brockway, former Labour Leader editor. His decision to break the prison rule of silence was reported in the Herald on May 25. His example was swiftly copied by other COs, and before long he was transferred to Lincoln Prison.

On May 27 came another push of German forces on the Western Front, while large numbers of US troops were arriving to strengthen the Allied side.

Meanwhile, British military intervention in Russia was quietly developing. On May 17 the War Cabinet was informed that a military mission was setting off for Murmansk and Archangel, with a view to recruiting Czech forces for anti-Bolshevik designs in north Russia.

So it was that Britain’s war to keep and extend its empire was now also a war against socialism.

August 100 years ago: attacks on the Bolshevik revolution and transport workers’ strikes: here.

September 1918: Confidence grows among war resisters. JOHN ELLISON charts the events at home and abroad that affected the British conduct of WWI.

World War I in Britain, April 2018


This video from England says about itself:

Deserters, Conchies and Reds

19 December 2014

The Bristol Deserter – Alfred Jefferies – His War Story

During World war One nearly 300 British soldiers on the Western Front were shot at dawn for deserting or for ‘cowardice’. One victim, Alfred Jefferies, a Bristolian, was executed on 1st November 1916. Based on official archives, including war diaries and court martial records, Geoff Woolfe describes Alfred’s tragic war story, whilst questioning the extent to which the full facts of some war events can be known.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

History: The struggle for peace amid the 1918 war carnage

JOHN ELLISON reviews the events of April 1918

April 1918 began on Easter Monday, 12 days into the German offensive on the Western Front. Twelve days of mass slaughter on both sides.

Militarily, the British sector, having been pushed back above the join with the French army some 40 miles across a long sector, had stabilised.

The longer-term aims of the rulers of Germany and Britain remained hidden from most people.

Germany’s elite, having so far a tiny empire, sought to dislodge the much stronger world imperial positions of the ruling groups of Britain and France, while Britain and France sought to sustain and extend their own colonial dominance.

The British Socialist Party paper The Call on April 4 described the German offensive as “a gamble”, declaring that “the counters in the game are the millions of fair, strong, beautiful human beings, our fellow workers…”

War propaganda — powerful as it continued to be — did not deter a peace march from taking place in Leicester over the Easter weekend before the Independent Labour Party’s annual conference.

The Leicester Daily Mail had encouraged in its columns an angry public response to this parade, but the organisers went ahead and no “patriotic” physical punishment followed.

At the front of the procession on the Sunday was a band, followed by Socialist Sunday School children, bearing a wide banner between them.

The Labour Leader’s report went on: “Many other little flag bearers followed, their flags’ words striking home to the onlookers’ heads. ‘I want my daddy’, ‘They’ve taken our daddies’, ‘Why can’t daddy come home’, ‘We want peace.’”

Adults marched too and a large gathering in the town hall congratulated “the workers of Russia” for “their stand made for social and economic freedom … and their exposure of capitalist imperialism by the publication of the secret treaties.”

ILP leaders Philip Snowden and Ramsay MacDonald, however, were unwilling to demand a “socialist peace”, preferring to place faith in recent signs of increased Establishment interest in negotiation.

The BSP had held its own conference over the Easter weekend in Leeds, though the shortage of civilian trains meant some delegates arrived very late. This was a united anti-war and anti-capitalist conference.

A letter from Russian ambassador Maxim Litvinov, working from home again after eviction from his Victoria Street office, “conveying cordial greetings from socialist Russia”, was read to the delegates.

This conference debated whether or not the BSP should remain affiliated to the Labour Party. On the one hand, John Maclean, who had been appointed Soviet consul in January, replacing Joe Fineberg who, Russian in origin, had been acting as Litvinov’s secretary, argued that non-affiliation would isolate the party from the broader currents of the labour movement.

The reverse on the Western Front certainly caused the war cabinet much alarmed debate.

Prime Minister Lloyd George, who was contemptuous of the military competence of Field-Marshal Haig, told his colleagues on April 6: “I cannot tell you what happened … there was widespread chaos … the 5th Army has practically disappeared. There are only some remnants of it still in the line.”

There was no publicity for the estimates of casualties from the start of the offensive to April 6 presented to the war cabinet on the 10th. The calculation of killed, wounded and missing combined, was in excess of 112,000, comprised of more than 10,000 dead, around 50,000 wounded and more than 50,000 missing, including prisoners.

Resistance among engineers and others to the extension of conscription imposed early in the year had now faded because of the military crisis, which now emboldened the government to introduce fresh emergency legislation directing a fuller “comb-out” of men into the army.

On April 9 Lloyd George introduced the new Bill. As well as allowing existing exemptions to be cancelled by proclamation, men up to the age of 50 — and even 55 if with special qualifications — would be called up, though mainly for home defence, and the men of Ireland were to be conscripted too.

The Bill had the backing of Labour war cabinet member George Barnes.

Lloyd George spoke for two hours and sat down, said the New Statesman, “after a horribly creaking peroration.”

Novelist Arnold Bennett, who observed the session, commented in his diary: “He did not know his case… Ll G’s oratorical effects very poor — like a Lyceum melodrama.”

A fresh German attack came on April 9. Enemy forces, said the war cabinet record, had “got into our front line system everywhere” between the Lys and another river and there were further advances next day.

On the 12th came Field-Marshal Haig’s “Backs to the wall” message. “Every position must be held to the last man”, it insisted. Field-marshals were naturally exempted from this requirement.

On the 16th the new “Manslaughter” Bill came into force. The following Sunday in Ireland a pledge against conscription was taken solemnly by large congregations in Roman Catholic churches.

Earlier, the Workers’ Dreadnought, edited by Sylvia Pankhurst, contained an article by Maud Gonne McBride, the widow of John McBride, one of the Easter Rising’s executed leaders.

It contained a powerful warning against the imposition of conscription in Ireland. The suppression of the Rising with summary executions had stimulated, not cowed, the independence movement.

“Ireland is awake today”, she wrote, “as I have never known before, awake and burning for freedom.”

Government anxiety about the situation in France did not prevent development of a small-scale incursion into Russia.

On April 5 around 50 British troops and 200 Japanese disembarked at Vladivostok, a fact reported in the press four days later.

A week later the war cabinet settled on sending a second small cruiser to Murmansk in north Russia. On the 19th it approved the dispatch of a cruiser to Archangel “to protect Allied interests.”

Of this the public were not told, while Britain’s agent in Russia, Bruce Lockhart, was now establishing contact with anti-Bolshevik groups and supporting Allied military intervention to bring down the Lenin government.

In Britain, press jingoism was directed towards peace activists, but the No Conscription Fellowship’s Tribunal remained outspoken. On April 11 its columns called out: “STOP THE WAR… In all countries the peoples must say ‘We will not go on’… COME OUT FOR PEACE.”

Scotland Yard’s answer came on the 22nd. Six police officers arrived with a cart at the Streatham premises of the paper’s new printer. They broke up the printing machinery and took it away together with paper supplies, confiscating some £500-worth of equipment — equivalent to £33,000 today.

Joan Beauchamp, the Tribunal’s publisher, was visited too. She admitted being the publisher but refused to identify the current editor, who was another peace heroine, Lydia Smith.

Despite these vicissitudes, the paper was able to appear as one sheet on the 25th, headed “HERE WE ARE AGAIN”, but from this time on, the printing location was a close secret and circulation was down to around 2,000.

The Workers’ Dreadnought also suffered a direct police onslaught on its print machinery but managed to find another printer.

These attempts to suppress peace movement activities in London were supplemented by another in Glasgow. On the 15th John Maclean was arrested and committed for trial without bail. It was alleged that he had carried on Bolshevik propaganda in various places. His trial was set for May.

More German attacks, commencing on April 24, led to War Cabinet fears on the 30th — which were absurd, especially considering the pouring into France of large numbers of US troops — that, if French channel ports were reached, Britain might be invaded.

The government and its press allies and agents could be expected to suppress the peace, and therefore the socialist, movement, ever more viciously.

Yet the anti-war movement pressed on, seeking to broadcast evidence of the secret treaties previously made by allied governments and exposed by the Bolshevik government the previous November, but little noticed in the mainstream press.

During April the Glasgow-based Socialist Labour Party’s monthly The Socialist produced a special “Socialist war map” highlighting the bonus territories to be awarded to victorious allied countries in despicable imperial deals, while the Union of Democratic Control, in an edition of 4,000 copies, published in full The Secret Treaties and Understandings.

Maclean’s pamphlet, The War after the War, was available too for two pence.

World War I, 100 years ago


This 2011 video from Britain is called Conscientious Objectors in World War One.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A look back 100 years to WWI

IN EARLY March 1918 literary historian Lytton Strachey was close to publishing his soon to be famous book of essays Eminent Victorians, which treated his highly respectable subjects with a near scandalous degree of irreverence and wit.

He had recently attended the trial of anti-war philosopher Bertrand Russell, when the latter had been sentenced to six months in prison for inciting disaffection in a January article in the No Conscription Fellowship’s weekly Tribunal.

His sympathies were entirely with Russell. He wrote in a letter to a Bloomsbury circle fellow member: “It was really infamous … The spectacle of a louse like Sir John Dickinson rating Bertie for immorality and sending him to prison!”

Russell now belonged to the determined few sentenced to jail for peace agitation.

Another was Edmund Morel, serial exposer of Britain’s imperialist motives in the war, lately released from Pentonville Prison.

He had been given a six-month sentence late the previous summer for sending a Union of Democratic Control pamphlet to a friend in Switzerland (technically contravening the Defence of the Realm Act). His freedom was celebrated at a public meeting in Leicester.

The treatment of “absolutist” conscientious objectors to the war — who had refused military (and, when prescribed, non-combatant service) — had been severe. For them repeated sentences with hard labour was the preferred punishment.

On March 7 Clarence Norman, imprisoned since summer 1916, and now charged with refusing to don a military uniform, defended himself on the basis that he should only be judged by a civil court. For him another hard labour sentence followed.

The playwright George Bernard Shaw in a letter printed in the Manchester Guardian on March 15 described Norman as
“a very obstreperous martyr … Mr Clarence Norman … may be depended on not to suffer in dignified and melancholy silence.”

Another CO died in Hull Prison early in March following a hunger strike. It was later confirmed that his death was due to pneumonia accelerated by forcible feeding. Had a longer tube been inserted, a doctor stated, he would not have choked to death.

The Lloyd George-led government was not much bothered by the fate of war resisters. On March 1 war cabinet discussion was focused on a proposed landing of a small party of British soldiers at Murmansk in northern Russia’s Kola Inlet, and then on what looked like the approach of the anticipated German offensive on the Western Front.

On March 6 a company of British marines — 130 men — disembarked at Murmansk from a warship and marched into local barracks.

No fighting took place, but this was the moment of the first direct British military action against the Lenin government of Russia. It was not publicised.

But government support for a landing by Japanese forces in the far east of Russia, at Vladivostok, was quickly known.

In late February a secret message had gone to Washington inviting the US to approve a Japanese landing on the basis that a Japanese force would move westwards across Siberia as far as the railway centre of Chelyabinsk, just east of the Urals.

The notion was that credibility could thereby be lent to the argument that Japanese intervention would be as an ally against Germany more than as an ally against Bolshevism.

There was a fall-back inference that the Bolsheviks, having declined to continue to fight Germany, were more or less its agents anyway.

The independent-minded weekly The Nation on March 9 was critical of approval for a Japanese landing.

“The case publicly advanced for this intervention is that the Germans, after extorting from Russia her consent to a peace which she regards only as a truce, are now in a position to threaten Japan, 5,000 miles away at Vladivostok. This pretext … is manifestly remote from any reason which could sway responsible statesmen.”

The British Socialist Party’s The Call drove deeper, classing the adventure with that of Britain in 1882 when, on the pretext of restoring public order and the authority of Egypt’s Khedive, British troops had landed in Egypt in order to put it under British control.

It stated flatly: “Japan and Germany, formally belonging to two opposite camps, are acting as the joint executors of the capitalist world.”

From Petrograd, however, British agent Bruce Lockhart was cabling his Whitehall masters anxiously and vainly opposing support for Japan, as he considered it made less likely Russia’s return to war against Germany.

Lockhart had a revealing meeting with Lenin on March 1, when told he would have facilities to work in Russia and would be free to leave when he wished.

In his 1932 book Memoirs of a British Agent, Lockhart recounted that Lenin told him: “So long … as the German danger exists, I am prepared to risk a co-operation with the allies … In the event of German aggression, I am even willing to accept military support. At the same time I am quite convinced that your government will never see things in this light … It will co-operate with the Russian reactionaries.”

Indeed, it was already financing them. Before the end of January the war cabinet had decided to send a gift of £20,000 to anti-Bolshevik forces in eastern Siberia.

Lockhart’s London counterpart, Maxim Litvinov, Russia’s “ambassador” since early January, was now enjoying less freedom of action.

Notice to quit his office rooms at 82 Victoria Street had been followed at the end of February by his landlord’s agent’s refusal of access.

Granted an injunction, Litvinov was able to return, but on March 8 Mr Justice Neville at the Royal Courts of Justice brushed away any thought of political neutrality.

The regime Litvinov represented earned only judicial contempt: “I know of no such government.”

Litvinov’s claim to remain at Victoria Street was dismissed with costs on the grounds that he had not come to court “with clean hands”, having been apparently in breach of Defence of the Realm Regulations by making a statement to trade unions “likely to cause disaffection.” He was compelled to work from home again.

He was now subjected to a new The Defence of the Realm Act regulation — in force from March 5 — prohibiting an alien from addressing meetings and engaging in propaganda.

In mid-March The Call commented tolerantly on the demonisation of Litvinov and socialism: “There has always existed a curious notion among our bourgeoisie that socialism, and all other ‘subversive’ ideas are foreign importations, principally advocated in this country by uncouth individuals in wide-awake hats and mysterious trousers.”

The government continued to pursue the cancellation of exemptions from conscription in the Manpower (“Manslaughter”) Bill, though its intentions had been confronted by a substantial vote of the engineers’ union against the “comb-out”, and now by a smaller majority vote against by the miners.

On March 8 the Daily Mirror guessed where the German army would strike on the Western Front. It would be “at the extreme British right-wing, with a view to breaking its contact with the French left-wing.”

The Mirror routinely recorded that day the latest Roll of Honour casualty list, which included 17 officers and 326 NCOs and men dead, and many more wounded and missing.

The much larger casualties necessarily resulting from another offensive were not the subject of mainstream press consideration.

If the German armies, strengthened by the end of the war in the east, were to win in the west, they needed to do so before the mass of US forces arrived.

The offensive began on the 21st, following a massive artillery bombardment, and, as the Mirror had predicted, just above the join with the French army, and on a 50-mile front.

By the 28th, to Field Marshal Haig’s bewilderment, a 40-mile British retreat had taken place. Once again the generals underestimated enemy strength, reflected this time by putting far too many defending troops in the most forward trenches.

By evening on the 26th, a general noted that British casualties were up to 80,000.

A new “Manslaughter” Bill was now hastily planned to conscript not only men in Britain aged up to 50, but the men of Ireland too — while Irish nationalist feeling was growing ever stronger, inspired by the Easter Rising’s bloody suppression almost two years before.

Passchendaele, World War I bloodbath of poets and other soldiers


Australian stretcher bearers trapped in mud, Battle of Ypres, 1917. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: ‘I could taste their blood in the air’

Tuesday 1st August 2017

BRITISH soldiers killed at Passchendaele were remembered yesterday on the centenary of the start of the WWI battle in Belgium.

More than half a million men from both sides were killed or injured in more than 100 days of fighting in the rain-sodden summer and autumn of 1917.

The Tyne Cot cemetery near the Belgian village is the largest Commonwealth burial ground in the world, with 11,971 servicemen buried and remembered there, 8,373 of whom are unidentified.

An account by Private Bert Ferns of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who fought in the battle, was read out by Fusilier Shaun Mclorie.

He said: “I staggered up the hill and then dropped over the slope into a sort of gully. It was here that I froze and became very frightened because a big shell had just burst and blown a group of lads to bits; there were bits of men all over the place, a terrible sight, men just blown to nothing.

“I just stood there. It was still and misty, and I could taste their blood in the air.”

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. The lyrics are:

Forward Joe Soap‘s Army

Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
He boasts and skites from morn till night,
And thinks he’s very brave,
But the men who really did the job are dead and in their grave.
Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
Amen.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

At 3:50 on the morning of July 31, 1917, the allied troops of Great Britain and France begin the so-called Third Great Flanders Offensive, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. …

It becomes a grueling battle of attrition and a terrible slaughter that continues through November. For months, the ruins of a single location are fought over. For the first time, aerial battles take place involving more than 100 fighter planes. Only with difficulty does the German military command manage to replace the divisions which are quickly disabled.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Germans overcome their disadvantage by using mustard gas for the first time, the barbaric chemical agent that burns the airways and skin within seconds. Professor Adolf Julius Meyer, the creator of mustard gas, later boasts: “The effect of mustard gas in the Flanders battle of 1917 grew more and more and it was often the case that the enemy was happy if he was able to keep a quarter of his men unharmed.”

The fighting lasts through mid-November. The military objectives of the offensive are not achieved. The only result—a relocation of the front line by 8 kilometers—is paid for on the British side with approximately 50,000 killed; 38,000 missing in action; and 236,000 wounded. On the German side, approximately 46,000 are killed and missing while 281,000 are wounded and seriously ill.

The grave of Hedd Wyn at Artillery Wood Cemetery in Belgium

Also from the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

Western Front, July 31: Two poets, Hedd Wyn and Francis Ledwidge, killed in action

Irish poet Francis Ledwidge and Welsh poet Hedd Wyn are both killed during the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.

Ledwidge, born in 1887, was associated with the Gaelic revival movement prior to the war, and he was also active in trade union circles. He tried and failed to establish a local club of the Gaelic League, a literary and cultural organization that promoted the use of the Irish language and was associated with the development of nationalism at the beginning of the 20th century. He was more successful in creating a local branch of the Irish Volunteers in Slane, the organization formed in response to the creation of the Ulster Volunteers to ensure the implementation of home rule for Ireland. Though Ledwidge initially sided with the minority of the Irish Volunteers, which, on the outbreak of war, opposed participation in the British army, he soon shifted his position and joined the military in October 1914.

Ledwidge’s poetry was influenced by rural life. He also responded to the radicalism of the 1916 Easter Rising, writing in “O’Connell Street”:

“A Noble failure is not vain
But hath a victory of its own
A bright delectance from the slain
Is down the generations thrown.”

Wyn, born Ellis Humphry Evans in 1887, is also killed near Ypres. He adopted the name Hedd Wyn, meaning blessed peace in Welsh, in 1910. His poetry drew heavily on the influences of the Romantic era, including themes of nature and spirituality, although he has also written several war poems since the conflict broke out. Wyn initially opposed the war on Christian pacifist grounds. He was conscripted in 1916 and then arrested by the military police in early 1917 after overstaying a period of leave at home. Wyn posthumously won an award at the National Eisteddfod, a festival of poetry and music, for his poem Yr Arwr.

Some of Wyn’s works have been translated, including the poem Rhyfel (War), which begins,

“Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?”

Death and injuries at the battle of Passchendaele

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: They lied then, they lie now

Tuesday 1st August 2017

ONE hundred years ago today, Daily Chronicle war correspondent Philip Gibbs recorded events on the first day of the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

An Irish soldier had gone over the top to attack the German lines in atrocious weather, glad to escape the “awful noise” of the field guns on the British side. He and his comrades had crossed blasted ground, where “trenches had disappeared, concrete emplacements had been overturned, breastworks had been flung like straws to the wind.”

Many of the so-called enemy had been buried alive along with their machine guns, trench mortars and bomb stores.

As Gibbs noted: “But there were other dead not touched by shell-fire, nor by any bullet. They had been killed by our gas attack which had gone before the battle. Rows of them lay clasping their gas-masks, and had not been quick enough before the vapour of death reached them.”

Over the following four months, half a million men and boys were killed or wounded in a series of brutal battles for five miles of Belgian mud.

In December 1917, Prime Minister David Lloyd George attended a private banquet where Gibbs recounted his experiences at the front in graphic, gory detail. The next day, Lloyd George confided to Guardian editor CP Scott the impact that this account would have on the home front: “If people really knew, the war would end tomorrow. But of course, they don’t know and can’t know.”

The press barons and state censors ensured that most civilians never did read the truth about the Great War between the ruling classes of the British, French, Russian and Italian empires on the one side and those of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire on the other.

As Lloyd George had gone on to say: “The correspondents don’t write and the censorship wouldn’t pass the truth. What they do send is not the war, but just a pretty picture of the war with everybody doing gallant deeds.

“The thing is horrible and beyond human nature to bear and I feel I can’t go on with this bloody business.”

But he and his successors did go on with this “bloody business,” not only in Europe but in Iraq, India, Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, the Falklands and Afghanistan.

And still we are not told the truth. At yesterday’s commemorations, a procession of military figures, princes, politicians and priests concealed the real causes and motives of the 1914-18 slaughter in a cloud of guff.

They yapped about freedom, duty, courage, service and sacrifice — but uttered not a word about the war criminals who incited, organised and applauded one of the biggest and most pointless mass slaughters in history.

Fittingly, this was on the same day that the High Court threw out an attempt to hold Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith to account for waging the murderous war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile in Ypres, ever ready to let slip the dogs of war, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon linked Passchendaele and the first world war to Britain’s present-day military commitments and alliances.

They are indeed connected, although not, as Fallon would have it, in some common, timeless struggle for freedom and democracy.

Rather, Britain’s foreign and military policy remains to make the world safe for big business profits, bringing troublesome peoples and governments to heel while monopoly capitalism exploits their human and natural resources.

We would best honour the victims of Passchendaele by redoubling our efforts to challenge British imperialism, its bloody interventions, its nuclear weapons of mass extermination and its servile Nato alliance with US imperialism.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Passchendaele – where imperialism murdered hundreds of thousands of British & German workers

THE BATTLE of Passchendaele saw 275,000 British soldiers, workers in uniform, killed or wounded alongside 220,000 German workers in uniform.

This was a great imperialist slaughter directed by Anglo-French and German imperialism to re-divide the world between themselves. The general staffs and the governments involved fought resolutely and determinedly down to the last worker in uniform in the struggle in which shell-shocked workers were executed for desertion or cowardice.

It was … the ruling classes of the planet determined to safeguard and expand their empires no matter how many workers’ lives this cost. The Second ‘socialist’ International collapsed at the start of the war and supported their own governments, displaying ultra-patriotism and an extreme willingness to sacrifice workers lives for the benefit of their particular empire.

There were exceptions however. In Britain, John Maclean, James Maxton and the Clydeside Workers Committee opposed the war. James Connolly did the same in Ireland. In Germany, the anti-imperialist war struggle was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxenburg, with Liebknecht voting against war credits in the German parliament on December 2nd 1914.

He told the parliament: ‘I am voting against the War Credits Bill today for the following reasons. None of the peoples involved in this war wanted it, and it did not break out to promote their welfare – not in Germany or anywhere else. It is an imperialist war, a war to dominate the capitalist world market and secure for industrial and financial capital the possession of important territories for settlement.’

In the Russian socialist movement … Lenin saw the Great War as the prelude to the socialist revolution of the working class. He would not support the war of the Czarist autocracy and saw the war as a great opportunity for overthrowing Czarism, breaking up the Czarist Russian empire which he termed ‘the prison house of the nations’. …

In November 1918, the mutiny of the German navy at Kiel saw the red flag raised over the fleet and in fact ended the First World War. On November 3rd, the sailors in Kiel, joined by workers from the nearby city, detained their officers and took control of their ships. They also formed Elective Councils, their own ‘workers soviets’ that drafted the Kiel Mutineers list of demands, the first six points being;

1. The release of all inmates and political prisoners.
2. Complete freedom of speech and the press.
3. The abolition of mail censorship.
4. Appropriate treatment of crews by superiors.
5. No punishment for comrades returning to ships and barracks.
6. No launching of the fleet under any circumstances.

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. It is a parody of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

World War I in Britain, January 1918: here.

World War I propaganda in video games: here.

French Barbusse’s anti-World War I novel


Barbusse's Le Feu (Under Fire)

By Sandy English:

A century since the publication of Henri Barbusse’s antiwar novel, Under Fire

4 January 2017

In January 1917, French novelist Henri Barbusse published his novel Under Fire: The Story of a Squad (Le Feu: Journal d’une escouade), which related the experiences of a French army unit in the First World War. The book was based on the writer’s own experiences in the trenches facing the German lines in northern France, where he served for 17 months. The novel had been published in serial form toward the end of 1916, and appeared as a book in the first month of the new year.

After the passage of 100 years, Under Fire remains one of the most compelling works of art from the early part of the 20th century, and the first—and, in some ways, the most psychologically revealing—of the antiwar novels that the war of 1914-1918 produced in Europe and America over the next two decades.

Perhaps more importantly, the novel itself became a factor in the struggle against the war. It expressed, in the very middle of almost unimaginable destruction, the thoughts and feelings of millions of workers, small tradesmen and farmers from Europe, Canada, Australia and the colonies, and soon from the United States, as those around them were dying in fetid trenches, by poison gas, artillery bombardment and sniper or machine gun fire. Under Fire provoked an immediate reaction from hundreds of thousands of readers, and mirrored the revival of an antiwar movement in the French working class.

After the war, Lenin was to remark that Barbusse’s novels [Le Feu and Clarté (Clarity)], “may be cited as particularly graphic corroborations of the mass phenomenon, observed everywhere, of the growth of revolutionary consciousness among the masses.”

A year and a half of war produced a monumental shift in the opinions and sentiments of millions of people in Europe, both soldiers and civilians. It was inevitable and necessary that artists began to treat these earthshaking experiences in their fullest human dimension.

1916 was the bloodiest year in European history up to that point. The Russian Brusilov Offensive during the summer, in what is now Ukraine, cost 1,600,000 dead and wounded, mostly Russian and Austro-Hungarian.

The Battle of the Somme (from the River Somme, in northwestern France), fought from to July 1 to November 18, 1916, killed or wounded 1 million Germans, French, British, Australians, Canadians, Indians and New Zealanders. On the first day of the battle alone the British suffered 57,470 casualties. The Somme was notable for one of the first military uses of the new horror of air power.

The Battle of Verdun (February 21 to December 18, 1916)—fought in northeastern France primarily between German and French forces—was the lengthiest battle of the war and drew in nearly three-quarters of the French army. Estimates of the casualties range from 700,000 to 900,000 men, about half German and half French.

Battle of the Somme

One historian of the latter battle, Alistair Horne (The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916), notes: “Though other battles of the First War exacted a higher toll, Verdun came to gain the unenviable reputation of being the battlefield with the highest density of dead per square yard that has probably ever been known.” By the end of the year, over a million French soldiers (out of a male population of 20 million) had died in the slaughter of the first imperialist war.

French government censorship did not allow accurate reports of the scale of destruction to reach civilians behind the front lines, but reports trickled in from soldiers on leave. And by 1916, living standards behind the lines in France were deteriorating, with food shortages and steep price increases for staples such as flour and eggs.

Rank-and-file members of the Socialist Party were increasingly discontented with the abject pro-war attitude of their party’s leadership. Party officials sought to suppress knowledge and discussion of the socialist antiwar conference held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland in September 1915. Dissatisfaction among French workers would erupt in a strike wave the next year. The French government sought to ban Leon Trotsky’s antiwar Russian language newspaper Nashe Slovo, and succeeded in expelling Trotsky from France in March 1916.

Barbusse enlisted in the French army in 1914, at the age of 41, in the midst of the patriotic fervor. In a letter that month to the pro-war Socialist Party newspaper L’Humanité

L’Humanité only became pro-war after an extreme rightist had murdered its anti-war editor Jean Jaurès just before the official outbreak of World War I.

he wrote that he supported the war as a fight against “the sabre, the jackboot, and the crown” of German militarism.

Barbusse was raised in a household devoted to the ideals of the Enlightenment. He lived in the artistic Bohemia of the pre-war years, had a career as an editor and published poems in the symbolist style. His one early novel, Hell (L’enfer, 1908), is about man in a boarding house who can spy upon his fellow-boarders though a hole in the wall. What he sees is generally unflattering to humanity, although there are passages critical of nationalism and militarism, growing tendencies in France at the time.

During the war Barbusse served as an enlisted man, not an officer, and was awarded the Croix du Guerre for bravery and reassigned from the front for health reasons in 1916 (pulmonary damage, dysentery and exhaustion). By all accounts by 1915 he had become thoroughly disillusioned with the war and began to take a pacifist attitude. While working in a clerk’s position behind the lines, Barbusse began to turn his painful experiences into a novel.

The characters in Under Fire make up a single army squad (14 to 16 men), each from a different region of France and each a worker, farmer or small tradesman. A soldier who is apparently an intellectual narrates, but he stays in the background for the most part, letting the experiences and thoughts of his comrades take center stage.

The novel begins with the mundane details of life in the trenches for the poilu (ordinary French soldier): the dirt, the cold and the disease. Soldiers write letter to their wives, search for food, grumble about rations.

Generally, the soldiers show a mixture of sympathy for and anger at their German counterparts. Many blame the war entirely on German militarism. Some of them are not above killing a stray German for his matches, but German soldiers smuggle one French soldier, a fellow Alsatian, who has helped them bury their dead, behind the lines to see his family.

The novel progresses through more and more devastating scenes, both emotional and physical. The chapter called “First-Aid Post” shows a field hospital full of the wounded and dying. It is bombarded and light comes though the demolished roof: “In it you can see the faces flaming or morally pale. Eyes closing in agony or blazing with fever, bodies wrapped in white, patched in monstrous bandages. All these things that were hidden are brought into the light.”

The violence of the war reaches its climax in the chapter “Dawn,” one of the most harrowing depictions ever written of the hell of the First World War, or indeed any war. After a bombardment and a heavy rain, the trenches have been decimated and the ground is strewn with dead men, many of whom who perished by drowning.

Of the dead, both German and French, the narrator says: “All their efforts to escape from the ditch, with its sticky embankment, slowly, fatally filling up with water, only served to drag them further to the bottom. They died holding on for support to the earth as it slid away from them.”

The chapter is especially tragic because the beginnings of an understanding among the soldiers of the meaning of this experience, that is, of the real character of the war, has begun 60 pages earlier.

The narrator, as he wanders in “the midst of this dark chaos,” meets Corporal Bernard from his squad who is sitting on the embankment of a trench. He has recently killed German soldiers in battle and says, “‘How will they who come after us … how will they think of these massacres, these deeds, when even we who commit them don’t know whether they are like the exploits of heroes … or the doings of bandits! ‘And yet,’ he went on, ‘there is someone who has risen above the war and who will shine out for the beauty and extent of his courage …’ He exclaimed in a clear voice: ‘Liebknecht!’”

Critics have termed this scene “incongruous.” But it is just the opposite: it bears, more than almost any artistic depiction of the First World War, the imprint of the historical logic at work in the war: the emergence of the social revolution.

This logic was fully apparent only to a few in 1916, including the man named in this passage, the German Marxist Karl Liebknecht, leader of the antiwar tendency in the German working class. The handful of internationalist socialist leaders included Liebknecht’s comrade, Rosa Luxemburg, imprisoned since 1915; the Bolshevik leader, V. I. Lenin, who was still in exile in Geneva; and Leon Trotsky, who would shortly be expelled from France by a government which could sense where events were heading.

At the end of April 1917 large sections of the French army would be racked by mutinies as a result of the failed Nivelle Offensive, although the March Revolution in Russia and antiwar dissent in the working class behind the lines were also influences. In one protest, French soldiers bleated like sheep as they paraded past their officers to show they knew they were being led to the slaughter. The role of Under Fire in fanning this sentiment cannot be discounted.

Under Fire ends with a passionate discussion among the squad—those who remain alive—about social equality. “‘The people are nothing and should be everything,’” one soldier says. The narrator remarks, “These men of the people … are the Revolution greater than the other [the French Revolution of 1789], with themselves as its source—rising already, rising in their throats, repeat ‘Equality.’” [10]

The novel sold tens of thousands of copies, and won the most prestigious French literary award, the Prix Goncourt. Many French soldiers testified to the authenticity of Under Fire‘s descriptions. Particularly striking for the time was the frank language of the poilus that he reproduced. Because of the popularity of the novel and because of his exemplary war record, Barbusse could not be persecuted by the government.

World War I Somme bloodbath, 100 years ago


This video says about itself:

The Great War: The Somme (WWI Documentary)

22 April 2015

BATTLEFIELD DETECTIVES: WORLD WAR ONE – THE SOMME

In just one day almost 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded. Why was this first day on the Somme such a disaster for the British? World War I, trenches and barbed wire ran across the entire continent of Europe from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

At 7:30am on July 1st, 1916, after a devastating artillery bombardment lasting more than a week, 100,000 British soldiers waited in their trenches ready to advance on the German lines. They’d been told to expect minimal resistance, but as they picked their way slowly across no-man’s-land, guns opened fire. Shells burst overhead, and waves of men were machine-gunned down.

It was a military catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Filmed on the battlefield itself, in laboratories and on firing ranges – archaeologists, military historians, and other experts from disciplines as diverse as metallurgy and geology investigate the factors and conduct tests to replicate and understand the factors that turned one terrible day into the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

When lions were led to slaughter by donkeys

Friday 1st July 2016

One and a half million causalities in a single battle or the death of one single man – both underline the futility of war, says PETER FROST

The battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of WWI, indeed perhaps the bloodiest conventional battle in all human history. One and a half million participants were killed or injured in this single engagement.

The British suffered 419,654 casualties, the French 204,253 and the Germans 465,000, Canada 24,029 casualties, Australia 23,000, New Zealand 7,408 and Ireland 25,000.

One young German soldier suffered a wounded leg during the battle. His name was Adolf Hitler.

The Somme was one of the first battles in military history to include air warfare. The British Royal Flying Corps had 185 planes which, along with their artillery-spotting observation balloons, gave them air superiority. The Germans had only 129 aircraft.

This battle also saw the first use of tanks. Untried and unreliable, of the 40 used most could not even drag themselves to the front line. Another British tactic was to use miners to tunnel under the German entrenchments to plant explosives.

The battle started at 7.30am on July 1 1916 when the British detonated 40,000lbs of explosives under the German positions before the British infantry advanced across no-man’s land facing heavy artillery and murderous machine gun fire.

It was soon apparent that the British artillery bombardment had been largely ineffective — advancing troops suffered tremendous losses and the few that reached the German line were easily cut down.

Poor communications and arrogance from the officers led the British command to mistakenly assume the assault was working and send forward reinforcements. These too were cut down in huge numbers.

The first day ended in disaster — 19,240 British dead and 35,493 wounded, 21,152 missing and 585 taken prisoner, resulting in a total loss of 57,470 troops. The French and Germans suffered only 7,000 casualties each.

Eventually realising the heavy losses, British command largely suspended the offensive for a time but then the battle and the slaughter went on for many months.

All through the summer and autumn there was little advance by either side. As winter set in, prospects of a breakthrough became less and less likely. On November 13 British Somme commander Douglas Haig ordered an attack north of Thiepval to save face and it looked as if his strategy was succeeding.

By late November the battle of the Somme was over. Five long months of fighting had seen minimal gains but very heavy casualties. The French had captured perhaps five miles of German territory, the British only two miles.

Today we know that the battle was a disaster. It was the classic example of lions led by donkeys when brave men who died for their country were led by a remote, ignorant and uncaring officer class who believed they had the divine right to rule.

Perhaps we should give the final word to a German officer Friedrich Steinbrecher. “Somme,” he said, “the whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.”

A composer struck down in his prime

George Butterworth is my favourite English composer. His pastoral works speak of England and its countryside in a the same way as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Gustav Holst and is often based on old folk songs collected in the halcyon days before WWI.

Yet no other composer’s reputation is built on so few works. His Banks of Green Willow and Two English Idylls are among the finest in English music and his wonderful settings of Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad are among only a score or two of his works that remain.

Houseman’s line “Lads that will die in their glory and never grow old” would prove sadly prophetic in Butterworth’s own life.

Just before he left for the trenches of France, Butterworth went through all of his compositions and destroyed much of his music scores believing he could and would write much better when he returned from the war. It was not to be.

Born in Paddington in 1885 Butterworth became not just a composer but also a collector of folk songs, a Morris dancer and, of course, a cricketer.

He grew up in Yorkshire where he showed an early aptitude for the piano. At school he excelled more in sports and music than in academic subjects and in 1904 went to Trinity College Oxford to read Greats — classics, ancient history and philosophy. But even here music overshadowed his academic application.

In 1906, Butterworth became interested in traditional folk song and dance, part of a popular revival that was developing a distinctly English musical style.

Along with friends Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams he started collecting folk music.

In Sussex in 1907 he found local folk songs which he would use in his two English Idylls.

All in all, Butterworth collected around 450 songs and dance tunes and published several books of country and Morris dances, joined the Folk Song Society and was one of the founders of the English Folk Dance Society in 1911 dancing in its original Morris side.

In 1910, he enrolled at the Royal College of Music where he studied organ, piano, composition and harmony, but he was soon disillusioned and left a year later. Most of Butterworth’s compositions date from 1910-14.

In 1911 he wrote his rhapsody A Shropshire Lad which quotes from his earlier settings of Houseman’s poems and is widely recognised as his finest work. Although inspired by the folk tradition, it is entirely original.

The music is pastoral in nature, poignant and expressive. It hints at what might have been.

Butterworth’s final completed work for orchestra is the Banks of Green Willow, a third English Idyll which was written in 1913 as war clouds gathered.

In those final months before the war Butterworth provided both moral and practical support in the composition and performance of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony. When Vaughan Williams revised the work in 1920 he was to dedicate it to Butterworth’s memory.

When WWI broke out in August 1914, Butterworth enlisted as a private soldier.

By October he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 13th Durham Light Infantry, leading Durham miners with whom he developed a real bond.

Early in the morning of August 5 at Pozieres Butterworth was shot in the head and killed.

He would be awarded his second Military Cross for his heroism that night. Butterworth has no known grave.

If you seek a memorial to him, and the many other victims of the battle of the Somme, just listen to his music.

This music video is called George Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Conflicting imperialist ambitions root cause of the war

1 July 2016

John Ellison puts the Somme battle disaster in a wider context of organised civil opposition to WWI carnage

July 1, 1916. The first day of senseless slaughter in the Western Front battle of the Somme, launched by a long-planned British advance. No-one could say there had been no military preparation. The German lines had been pounded with artillery shells for five days before British troops went over the top to their deaths.

“But at that terrible moment,” wrote Adam Hochschild in his 2011 To End All Wars: “The multiple belts of barbed wire in front of the German trenches and the well-fortified machine-gun emplacements dotted among them were largely intact.

The bombardment, it turned out, had been impressive mainly for its tremendous noise.”

Commander-in-chief and friend of King George, Sir Douglas Haig, was not a man given to rationally required changes of plan, let alone to anguished self-doubt, or even self-doubt without anguish.

So the British death tally mounted astronomically, as the offensive continued, throughout July and into August, September, October.

When the battle began on July 1, this “war to end all wars” had been raging for 23 months and British, French and German soldiers had died in vast numbers during relatively passive confrontation along the long, wavy line of the Western Front and during major set-piece battles over which time the front shifted only very slightly.

British casualty milestones speak for themselves. By the end of 1914 the total figure of dead and wounded reached 90,000.

On September 25 1915 the British attacked near the village of Loos employing poison gas — chlorine —- for the first time, as the Germans had done several months before, at Ypres. Wind conditions, however, caused the attackers to suffer more from its use than the Germans.

Next day British infantry walking directly towards enemy machine guns incurred huge losses. Four-fifths of the 10,000 who advanced were either killed, wounded or missing but this fact did not pause the battle. A few weeks more, a mile or two of ground had been gained and British casualty numbers exceeded 61,000.

In Britain in spring 1916, with many volunteers now dead and volunteering slowed, conscription was introduced, first for single men, then for married men.

On July 2, the second day of the Somme battle, Haig was given a gross underestimate of casualties so far — over 40,000.

Satisfied with progress, he wrote in his diary: “This cannot be considered severe, in view of the numbers engaged and the length of front attacked.”

In fact — horrifically to almost anyone but Haig, then or since — on July 1 almost half of the attacking force of 120,000 men were killed or wounded.

By the end of October British deaths alone exceeded 95,000 and the fighting continued for more than another fortnight.

“The allies had gained,” wrote Hochschild, “roughly seven square miles of ground.”

Casualties in French forces, which had earlier in 1916 withstood the Verdun German offensive, were also vast, as were those of Germany — where anti-war socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg both spent time in prison that year.

“Strategically,” historian AJP Taylor declared in his book on World War I more than 50 years ago: “the battle of the Somme was an unredeemed defeat … Idealism perished … The enthusiastic volunteers were enthusiastic no longer. They had lost faith in their cause, in their leaders, in everything except loyalty to their fighting comrades. The war … went on for its own sake…”

In harmony Hochschild described the Somme battle as a turning point. He wrote: “It was not a turn towards rebellion but towards a kind of dogged cynicism, a disbelief that any battle could make a difference.”

But whatever the beliefs about the war’s justifications among fighting men on all sides, it is demonstrable that this war, as great labour historian Eric Hosbawm considered in his 1994 Age Of Extremes: “Was waged for unlimited ends,” unlike earlier wars usually waged for “limited and specifiable objects.”

He developed the point. In the Age Of Empire, he wrote: “Politics and economics had fused…for the two main contestants, Germany and Britain, the sky had to be the limit, since Germany wanted a global political and maritime position like that now occupied by Britain, and which therefore would automatically relegate an already declining Britain to inferior status.”

The argument that conflicting imperialist ambitions were the root cause of the war had not, however, yet filtered through to most people in Britain. Yet the small socialist, radical and religious anti-war army in Britain was not insignificant and the imposition of conscription offered a fresh focus for activity.

The No Conscription Fellowship supported conscription refusers, produced a regular bulletin, distributed more than a million leaflets — at the cost of arrests and imprisonments — and held meetings. Its national convention was held in April 1916 in an old Quaker Hall in Bishopsgate, attended by some 2,000 people, besieged by a crowd of “patriots” outside.

During the same month Suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst organised and spoke in the face of “patriot” aggression at an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square.

While some conscientious objectors, whether motivated by religious or other reasons, accepted non-combatant alternative service if offered it, many were in prison, 34 were in army custody, treated as soldiers while refusing military service, and received death sentences in France.

As a result, however, of a visit to prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith by (plus others) philosopher and anti-conscription campaigner Bertrand Russell, the order went to Haig that no conscientious objector should be shot. The death sentences were commuted, and the COs were returned to Britain by the end of June to serve long prison sentences.

An influential organisation which queried the war’s continuance was the Union of Democratic Control, led by radical Edmund Dene Morel, whose 1916 book The Truth About The War exposed official claims. Responsibility for the war, he insisted, was “distributed.”

The Independent Labour Party’s weekly Labour Leader was edited by anti-war socialist Fenner Brockway, while the previously divided small British Socialist Party now expressed a firmly anti-war and anti-imperialist position through its paper The Call.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s east London-based organisation and the Glasgow-based Socialist Labour Party shared that outlook. The newspapers of these small parties were always at risk from police raids.

Britain had declared war, so the official line went, to save “little Belgium,” whose independence was sacrificed by Germany’s unquestioned initial aggression through invasion on August 3 1914.

But Britain had no record of protecting the independence of other countries. On the contrary, it had robbed independence from many, including India, whose troops were fighting and dying for Britain’s empire.

Britain was still refusing independence to its oldest colony, Ireland, where the Easter Rising had lately been suppressed with leaders executed.

Britain’s motive in this war was to maintain its dominant world position and it was therefore willing to agree with allies that they have slices of territory outside its own empire. But these deals were secret, first publicised by the Bolsheviks from tsarist archives after the 1917 November revolution.

Thus a treaty of April 1915 granted Italy (in exchange for joining the war) lands in Austrian and Turkish control and even, if France and Britain extended their colonial empire in Africa at Germany’s expense, some African territory too.

A year later it was agreed with Russia that France was to have territory ruled by Turkey, while Britain was to have much of Iraq and more.

“MP for humanity” James Keir Hardie had been at the forefront of socialist demands at the war’s outset that Britain keep out, but died in September 1915. John Maclean, in Scotland, had been similarly at the forefront of the movement opposed to the war and was now in prison. Fenner Brockway, imprisoned briefly in the summer of 1916, would soon be in jail for much longer.

In 1917, the war would begin to unravel. Meanwhile, the words on the front page of the Labour Leader, on August 6 1914, continued to have great relevance: “Down with the War! WORKERS of Great Britain, you have no quarrel with the workers of Europe. They have no quarrel with you. The quarrel is between the RULING classes of Europe.”