The Attitudes of British Soldiers to their Commanders During the First World War

None of the sources I am evaluating have the date they were written on them, so there is a slight doubt about their usefulness to an historian. But I know that Siegfried Sassoon was a soldier in the British army and that he is also one of the most influential war poets. It is well known that all of his poetry was written either during the period that he was fighting in or in the mental hospital he was taken to after he had served.

This enhances the usefulness of the source because it was written near to the time of the war and the writer also had first hand experience of the emotions felt by soldiers towards their commanders; but the simple fact that he was put into a mental hospital means that it isn’t very reliable in telling us what the overall feeling toward the commanders was. Although source M does not state an exact date that the piece was written, it tells the name of the officer that wrote the article. This means that the usefulness of the source is high because it tells the relationship between an officer and a soldier.

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However the letters that were written home were full of respect from a higher rank than that of the person who died, which could easily be interpreted as just this, a letter complimenting a soldier without informing the faults that the person had. Source A has no indication whether it was written before, after or during the war. It shows the respect of the soldiers towards their commanders in one instance. But there isn’t much usefulness in this source because it does not tell you what the display is for.

However it does imply that the soldiers thought that the commanders weren’t involved in the front-line of the war and so don’t respect them highly. Through my own knowledge, it is clear that the content in source A is a little false because there was a lot of discipline in the British army at the time of the First World War. This meant that the soldiers didn’t want to publicly disgrace the people of higher rank to them in the army.

This is shown by the second source (B) as the poet accuses the general’s staff of “incompetent swine,” which eventually led him to being branded ‘mental. But the content of this source is very true as the soldiers died very quickly once the trained soldiers were killed in warfare. I also understand that there was a huge incompetence in the staff of Sir Douglas Haig as his intelligence did inform him falsely by telling him that fewer soldiers were dying in the field than actually were. However, the content in source M is of great contrast to the other sources, it is written out of respect and so will be a little exaggerated. But just this fact shows that there was a relationship between the ranks out of respect if nothing else.

This is especially true with the relationships in the different ranks within the field. Also, there must have been trust in the intelligence’s ability otherwise there would have been no voluntary soldiers and the war may have been lost. So there was unrest between the different ranks, but it was clear that through propaganda there was trust. The different aims of the sources also means that they will be of varying usefulness of them. Source A is an extract from a British magazine that was very opinionated at this time and was against the way that the war was to be won.

This source is meant to entertain the reader and the people who drew and wrote it most probably didn’t have any first-hand experience of the war, which would affect the reliability and accuracy of the source. However Source B was written at the time and was meant as a personal memory of the war. This suggests that although it was one person’s opinion it was not meant to persuade anybody and wouldn’t have been affected by propaganda or events in Britain. Also it would have been written after experiencing the war.

Source M however was written by somebody on the front-line to the parents of a “fine unselfish, comrade,” so would have been written under hard circumstances as the man who wrote it was meant to guide the dead soldier to victory. This means that it has little significance to the relationship between those in Britain and those on the front-line, but is very useful in describing the way that the front-line officers felt almost like parents to the soldiers. Finally in Sources A and B, there are no specific criticisms towards the commanders; but instead broad ideas that the authors thought should be improved.

If there had been criticisms about the creeping barrage as an attack instead of just “by his plan of attack,” then the arguments would have been more reliable as it would have been clear that the writers had researched their arguments. Although the sources show specific opinions of the attitudes towards the senior ranks, there are conflicting views and so no source can be said to be useful for a historian writing on the attitudes within the army as a whole. However all three sources would be useful for proving that there were different relationships in the army depending on personalities and personal feelings.