Sir Herbert Lawrence: new presentation

Lawrence in India 1888-89

A new presentation covering the life and career of Lawrence has been published online. The talk was given in January via Zoom as part of the Western Front Association’s regular webinar series. It can be accessed using the this link:

Siegfried Sassoon

The churchyard at Mells in Somerset

Poetry and literature have been influential in shaping the British narrative of the First World War. One of the best known writers was Siegfried Sassoon. His poetry has played a significant role in determining some of the most popular perceptions of the war. This view of how the war was conducted was underlined by his autobiographical account The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston.

Criticism of the command of the British army has not been hard to find in the historiography of the war with Sassoon one of the leading lights. Integral to that command function, the work of the staff has been the subject of fierce condemnation by many of the memoirs generated by the war. If an action failed, blame the staff. They have been perceived as an elite who did not share the dangers of war with the troops. The staff have been characterised as incompetent, isolated and indulged.

Was there another side to that argument? What about the case in defence of the staff? It was notable that Sassoon wrote, ‘Let the Staff write their own books about the Great War, say I. The Infantry were biased against them, and their authentic story will be read with interest’. In my book, The Men Who Planned the War (2016) I have endeavoured to tell that story.

The Men Who Planned the War (2016)

The staff of the British army have not had a good press. During the Allied victory celebrations there were few who chose to raise a glass to them. They have been seen as incompetent, ignorant and indulged. Their reputation tarnished by the high level of casualties. Soldiers sent to their deaths by uncaring bunglers who were cosseted in chateaux far from the fighting. But are these claims justified? Have we really taken a hard look at the evidence?

This book takes up the case for the staff. It argues that they did a professional job under challenging circumstances. The detailed and sometimes mundane work of the staff was not the stuff of which heroes were made. While there were mistakes, their successes were overlooked. They made a significant contribution to the war effort which has been overlooked. It is time the record was put straight.

General Sir Herbert Lawrence, Haig’s Chief of Staff (2019).

As Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in 1918, General Sir Herbert Lawrence played a key role in the defeat of Germany in the First World War.

This biography traces his remarkable career and argues that he has a strong claim to be recognised as one of the principal architects of Allied victory. Described as ‘a man of outstanding ability both as a soldier and in business’, it is surprising that this towering figure has received such little attention.

He remains one of the forgotten figures of the war.