Staring At God Britain in the Great War – A political and cultural history of World War 1 | Books | Entertainment

Staring At God Britain in the Great War – A political and cultural history of World War 1 | Books | Entertainment

Perhaps he believes the field post-Second World War is already too crowded with Dominic Sandbrook, Alwyn W. Turner and Peter Hennessy – if so, it would be a pity.

Heffer has an eye for the illuminating fact and quote.

We discover that having learned of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand King George V consoled himself by playing with his stamp collection.

The book is not a military history of the period – there are already shelves struggling under the weight of those tomes – but a political and personal one.

Heffer spares no one in his dissection of the government and its behaviour.

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith – while a good peacetime leader – was entirely unsuited to the demands of leading a wartime administration.

He spent hours reading at his club, drinking too much and being enamoured of young women.

Lord Kitchener – he of the recruiting poster – said: “My colleagues tell military secrets to their wives, except Asquith who tells them to other people’s wives.”

Heffer is equally scathing of Asquith’s successor David Lloyd George.

When he was Chancellor Lloyd George put a ha’penny on the price of half a pint of beer. “Every half pint that a man drinks will be contributing to the carrying on of the war.”

Then when munitions output fell, he blamed alcoholism among the working man.

“We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink,” he complained, “and as far as I can see the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink.”

General Douglas Haig even suggested – not in jest – shooting “two or three” drunk workers pour encourager les autres.

Despite his public bluster Lloyd George was not a courageous leader. When London was bombed he fled to his country house at Walton Health, Surrey, because the explosions scared him – if only the working man had had that option.

Heffer has a fantastic anecdote about the Armistice.

The government was concerned about the celebrations, which lasted several nights.

Lloyd George sent one of his confidants to assess the situation.

He discovered “the temper and the conduct of the crowds were everywhere good. There was very little drunkenness and few excesses… Of those few, Australians were the prominent participants.”

I await volume four with eagerness.

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