Book review: 1918: How The First World War Was Won, by Julian Thompson

Book review: 1918: How The First World War Was Won, by Julian Thompson. Published by: Carlton Books.

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A century ago, the guns fell silent after four years of the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. It is a conflict often described as futile with countless lives lost in skirmishes over very trivial areas of land, it is worth remembering that this was a war won as a result of military strategy as well as a war of attrition.

In fact, as late as 1918, after the humiliating capitulation of Bolshevik Russia at Brest-Litovsk, the war still looked like it could go pretty much either way.

Major General Julian Thompson’s book is produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum and is packed with detailed maps and relevant illustrations. It is a thorough and comprehensive account of the final year of the First World War.

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Book review: The End Of Asquith by Michael Byrne

herbert_henry_asquithA political drama set amidst the upper echelons of the Asquith Government might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea and indeed probably isn’t. Author Michael Byrne nevertheless deserves credit here for almost achieving the impossible task of being both almost wholly historically accurate (as far as I could tell anyway) and being dramatically engaging. The novel often reads like a film or TV script. Anyone planning a drama based around  the very British coup which saw Herbert Asquith usurped as wartime Prime Minister by David Lloyd George in 1916, could do worse than using this book as a starting point.

First world war: British troops go over the top in the trenches during the battle of the Somme

Even with the absence of  “middle aged man in a hurry” Winston Churchill, who has resigned as Lord of the Admiralty after the Gallipoli disaster and gone to the western front, there are plenty of colourful characters here. Byrne does a good job of seeing everyone’s point of view. Asquith himself is clearly exhausted by power after eight years as Prime Minister, is mourning the recent death of his son in action and prone to composing letters to his ladyfriends during cabinet meetings. He is naturally wary of conceding power to the ruthlessly cunning and mischievous Lloyd George. The sneaky future press baron Max Aitken (then a Tory backbencher, later Lord Beaverbrook) is another major participant. There are plenty of decent characters but there is also lots of skulduggery here.

The stakes were high. The Liberal Party which had won an historic landslide only a decade before was totally wrecked by these developments. On the plus side, the book reminds us that the outcome of the war was not inevitable. In Germany and Russia, similar dissatisfaction with the war leadership at this time, led to disaster: revolution and defeat in one nation, revolution followed by seventy years of tyranny in the other. Britain got off relatively light.

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Book review

The End of Asquith

Author: Michael Byrne

Published by: Clink Street

Top ten 1914 campaign slogans which were never used

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1. Don’t worry! It’ll all be over by Christmas!  (1918)

2. Do your bit for Britain! Hang a dachshund today!

3. Girls love a man in uniform! It won’t just be the horses they’ll be throwing themselves under!

4. Slow down Fritz! Leave some nuns for the rest of us!

5. Britain first! Defend the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha!

6. Join up! (You’re statistically more likely to die of Spanish Flu afterwards than be killed anyway).

7. Your Country Needs You! Best poetry entrants win.

8. It’s something to do with an Archduke getting shot. That’s all I know.

9. Fight for Britain and accelerate the rate of imperial decline.

10. Come on! Those deserters aren’t going to shoot themselves you know!

WARNING: Butterflies are a protected species. Any soldier on either side who is seen attempting to catch one before the cessation of hostilities, risks an immediate death penalty.