Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Anniversaries, or not...

Last week there was a terrific hoo-hah in the UK media about the 90th Anniversary of the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is commonly remembered. There was a ceremony with attendant royals, the full ceremonial thing and our last veterans on parade. The tone was "90 years to the day", except it wasn't. The battle began on 31st July 1917 but I am told that by then the respective Royal families will have gone on holiday so the anniversary was shifted.

In a sense it doesn't really matter so long as the events and the fallen are comemorated but the innacurracy was very poor. I also heard the usual stuff about poor command and control and futility. One of the key things we have seen from the very inception of this project is that Messines was a model of preparation and of execution. Old General Plumer might look like Colonel Blimp but he knew his stuff and the troops were well prepared for the battle, which is why they did incredibly well. And that, my best beloved, is why the battle is forgotten - it doesn't fit the popular paradigm of the First World War.

1 comment:

Michael Molkentin said...

It is such a shame that 3rd Ypres has been commemorated in the manner that it has. Certainly the first (August) and final (Passchendaele village) stages had elements of poor planning, but the middle three operations (Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodenseinde) were among some of the most brilliantly executed on the Western Front, excecuted indeed along the same tactical lines as Messines (albeit without the mines).

It is interesting to note that even by 1933 the campaign was being misrepresented. Charley Bean wrote in the preface to his Vol. IV of the Australian official history, "The world has forgotten, indeed if it ever realised that the story of this [second] phase was for the most part one of unimpeded success..."