Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919
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Military Technology in World War I
World War I was less than one year old when British writer H. G. Wells lamented the fate of humanity at the hands of “man’s increasing power of destruction” (H. G. Wells, “Civilization at the Breaking Point,” New York Times, May 27, 1915, 2). Although considered a father of science fiction, Wells was observing something all too real—technology had changed the face of combat in World War I and ultimately accounted for an unprecedented loss of human life.
Infantry warfare had depended upon hand-to-hand combat. World War I popularized the use of the machine gun—capable of bringing down row after row of soldiers from a distance on the battlefield. This weapon, along with barbed wire and mines, made movement across open land both difficult and dangerous. Thus trench warfare was born. The British introduced tanks in 1916; they were used with airplanes and artillery to advance the front. The advent of chemical warfare added to the soldier’s perils.
Sea and airborne weapons made killing from a distance more effective as well. Guns mounted on ships were able to strike targets up to twenty miles inland. The stealth and speed of German submarines gave Germany a considerable advantage in its dominance of the North Sea. Although airplanes were technologically crude, they offered a psychological advantage. Fighter pilot aces such as Manfred von Richthofen, Germany’s “Red Baron,” became celebrities and heroes, capturing the world’s imagination with their daring and thrilling mid-air maneuvers.
Newspapers charted the public’s reaction—horror and vengeance—to these technological advancements. A few weeks after the Germans first used poison gas in Ypres, Belgium, on April 22, 1915, a London newswire to the New York Times described the brutal details of the attack and the immediate effects on the soldiers, concluding: “It is without doubt the most awful form of scientific torture.” Yet a Daily Chronicle [London] editorial urged Britain to retaliate with poison gas use of its own (quoted in New York Times, May 7, 1915, 2). In fact, Germany claimed that the Allies were already using mines charged with poison gas. So horrified were people by chemical warfare that the use of poison gases was banned for future wars, although not until 1925.
When Germany’s plan for a swift military victory went unrealized, the pace of war bogged down. Both sides tried to break this stalemate through the use of force. In previous wars, victory was achieved through territorial supremacy; in World War I it was accomplished by simply outlasting the opponent—a “war of attrition.” When fighting first broke out in August 1914, many hoped the war would be short-lived; few predicted a conflict that would last for more than four years and scar an entire generation with its unprecedented brutality.
W. B. Yeats
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William Butler Yeats photographed in 1903 by Alice Boughton
William Butler Yeats [a] (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature . A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre , and in his later years served as a Senator of the Irish Free State for two terms. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival along with Lady Gregory , Edward Martyn and others.
Yeats was born in Sandymount , Ireland and educated there and in London. He spent childhood holidays in County Sligo and studied poetry from an early age when he became fascinated by Irish legends and the occult . These topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the 20th century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and its slow-paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser , Percy Bysshe Shelley , and the poets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . From 1900, his poetry grew more physical and realistic . He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature .
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Early years
- 1.2 Young poet
- 1.3 Maud Gonne
- 1.4 Abbey Theatre
- 1.5 Politics
- 1.6 Marriage to Georgie Hyde Lees
- 1.7 Nobel Prize
- 1.8 Old age and death
- 2 Style
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 Sources
- 7 External links
Biography[ edit ]
Early years[ edit ]
Of Anglo-Irish descent,  William Butler Yeats was born at Sandymount in County Dublin , Ireland.  His father, John Butler Yeats (1839–1922), was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier, linen merchant, and well-known painter who died in 1712.  Benjamin Yeats, Jervis’s grandson and William’s great-great-grandfather, had in 1773  married Mary Butler  of a landed family in County Kildare .  Following their marriage, they kept the name Butler. Mary was a descendant of the Butler of Ormond family from the Neigham (pronounced Nyam) Gowran branch.
By his marriage, William’s father John Yeats was studying law but abandoned his studies to study art at Heatherley’s Art School in London.  His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen , came from a wealthy merchant family in Sligo , who owned a milling and shipping business. Soon after William’s birth the family relocated to the Pollexfen home at Merville, Sligo to stay with her extended family, and the young poet came to think of the area as his childhood and spiritual home. Its landscape became, over time, both literally and symbolically, his “country of the heart”  So also did its location on the sea; John Yeats stated that “by marriage with a Pollexfen, we have given a tongue to the sea cliffs”.  The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; his brother Jack became an esteemed painter, while his sisters Elizabeth and Susan Mary —known to family and friends as Lollie and Lily—became involved in the Arts and Crafts movement . 
Yeats was raised a member of the Protestant Ascendancy , which was at the time undergoing a crisis of identity. While his family was broadly supportive of the changes Ireland was experiencing, the nationalist revival of the late 19th century directly disadvantaged his heritage, and informed his outlook for the remainder of his life. In 1997, his biographer R. F. Foster observed that Napoleon’s dictum that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty “is manifestly true of W.B.Y.”  Yeats’s childhood and young adulthood were shadowed by the power-shift away from the minority Protestant Ascendancy. The 1880s saw the rise of Charles Stewart Parnell and the home rule movement; the 1890s saw the momentum of nationalism, while the Catholics became prominent around the turn of the century. These developments had a profound effect on his poetry, and his subsequent explorations of Irish identity had a significant influence on the creation of his country’s biography. 
In 1867, the family moved to England to aid their father, John, to further his career as an artist. At first the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother entertained them with stories and Irish folktales. John provided an erratic education in geography and chemistry, and took William on natural history explorations of the nearby Slough countryside.  On 26 January 1877, the young poet entered the Godolphin school ,  which he attended for four years. He did not distinguish himself academically, and an early school report describes his performance as “only fair. Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling”.  Though he had difficulty with mathematics and languages (possibly because he was tone deaf  ), he was fascinated by biology and zoology. For financial reasons, the family returned to Dublin toward the end of 1880, living at first in the suburbs of Harold’s Cross  and later Howth . In October 1881, Yeats resumed his education at Dublin’s Erasmus Smith High School .  His father’s studio was nearby and William spent a great deal of time there, where he met many of the city’s artists and writers. During this period he started writing poetry, and, in 1885, the Dublin University Review published Yeats’s first poems, as well as an essay entitled “The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson “. Between 1884 and 1886, William attended the Metropolitan School of Art—now the National College of Art and Design —in Thomas Street . 
He began writing his first works when he was seventeen; these included a poem—heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley —that describes a magician who set up a throne in central Asia. Other pieces from this period include a draft of a play about a bishop, a monk, and a woman accused of paganism by local shepherds, as well as love-poems and narrative lyrics on German knights. The early works were both conventional and, according to the critic Charles Johnston, “utterly unIrish”, seeming to come out of a “vast murmurous gloom of dreams”.  Although Yeats’s early works drew heavily on Shelley, Edmund Spenser , and on the diction and colouring of pre-Raphaelite verse, he soon turned to Irish mythology and folklore and the writings of William Blake . In later life, Yeats paid tribute to Blake by describing him as one of the “great artificers of God who uttered great truths to a little clan”.  In 1891, Yeats published John Sherman and “Dhoya”, one a novella, the other a story.
Young poet[ edit ]
1900 portrait by John Butler Yeats , the poet’s father.
The family returned to London in 1887. In March 1890 Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn , and with Ernest Rhys  co-founded the Rhymers’ Club , a group of London-based poets who met regularly in a Fleet Street tavern to recite their verse. Yeats later sought to mythologize the collective, calling it the “Tragic Generation” in his autobiography,  and published two anthologies of the Rhymers’ work, the first one in 1892 and the second one in 1894. He collaborated with Edwin Ellis on the first complete edition of William Blake’s works, in the process rediscovering a forgotten poem, “Vala, or, the Four Zoas”.  
Yeats had a life-long interest in mysticism, spiritualism , occultism and astrology. He read extensively on the subjects throughout his life, became a member of the paranormal research organisation ” The Ghost Club ” (in 1911) and was especially influenced by the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg .  As early as 1892, he wrote: “If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Kathleen ever have come to exist. The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”  His mystical interests—also inspired by a study of Hinduism, under the Theosophist Mohini Chatterjee , and the occult—formed much of the basis of his late poetry. Some critics disparaged this aspect of Yeats’s work. 
His first significant poem was “The Island of Statues”, a fantasy work that took Edmund Spenser and Shelley for its poetic models. The piece was serialized in the Dublin University Review. Yeats wished to include it in his first collection, but it was deemed too long, and in fact was never republished in his lifetime. Quinx Books published the poem in complete form for the first time in 2014. His first solo publication was the pamphlet Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (1886), which comprised a print run of 100 copies paid for by his father. This was followed by the collection The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), which arranged a series of verse that dated as far back as the mid-1880s. The long title poem contains, in the words of his biographer R.F. Foster , “obscure Gaelic names, striking repetitions [and] an unremitting rhythm subtly varied as the poem proceeded through its three sections”; 
We rode in sorrow, with strong hounds three,
Bran, Sceolan, and Lomair,
On a morning misty and mild and fair.
The mist-drops hung on the fragrant trees,
And in the blossoms hung the bees.
We rode in sadness above Lough Lean,
For our best were dead on Gavra’s green.
“The Wanderings of Oisin” is based on the lyrics of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology and displays the influence of both Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Pre-Raphaelite poets.  The poem took two years to complete and was one of the few works from this period that he did not disown in his maturity. Oisin introduces what was to become one of his most important themes: the appeal of the life of contemplation over the appeal of the life of action. Following the work, Yeats never again attempted another long poem. His other early poems, which are meditations on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects, include Poems (1895), The Secret Rose (1897), and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). The covers of these volumes were illustrated by Yeats’s friend Althea Gyles . 
During 1885, Yeats was involved in the formation of the Dublin Hermetic Order. The society held its first meeting on 16 June, with Yeats acting as its chairman. The same year, the Dublin Theosophical lodge was opened in conjunction with Brahmin Mohini Chatterjee , who travelled from the Theosophical Society in London to lecture. Yeats attended his first séance the following year. He later became heavily involved with the Theosophy and with hermeticism , particularly with the eclectic Rosicrucianism of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn . During séances held from 1912, a spirit calling itself “Leo Africanus” apparently claimed it was Yeats’s Daemon or anti-self, inspiring some of the speculations in Per Amica Silentia Lunae.  He was admitted into the Golden Dawn in March 1890 and took the magical motto Daemon est Deus inversus—translated as ‘Devil is God inverted’. [b] He was an active recruiter for the sect’s Isis-Urania Temple , and brought in his uncle George Pollexfen, Maud Gonne , and Florence Farr . Although he reserved a distaste for abstract and dogmatic religions founded around personality cults, he was attracted to the type of people he met at the Golden Dawn.  He was involved in the Order’s power struggles, both with Farr and Macgregor Mathers , and was involved when Mathers sent Aleister Crowley to repossess Golden Dawn paraphernalia during the “Battle of Blythe Road”. After the Golden Dawn ceased and splintered into various offshoots, Yeats remained with the Stella Matutina until 1921. 
Maud Gonne[ edit ]
Maud Gonne c. 1900
W. B. Yeats (no date)
In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, a 23-year-old English heiress and ardent Irish Nationalist. [c] She was eighteen months younger than Yeats and later claimed she met the poet as a “paint-stained art student.”  Gonne admired “The Island of Statues” and sought out his acquaintance. Yeats began an obsessive infatuation, and she had a significant and lasting effect on his poetry and his life thereafter.  In later years he admitted, “it seems to me that she [Gonne] brought into my life those days—for as yet I saw only what lay upon the surface—the middle of the tint, a sound as of a Burmese gong, an over-powering tumult that had yet many pleasant secondary notes.”  Yeats’s love was unrequited, in part due to his reluctance to participate in her nationalist activism. 
In 1891 he visited Gonne in Ireland and proposed marriage, but was rejected. He later admitted that from that point “the troubling of my life began”.  Yeats proposed to Gonne three more times: in 1899, 1900 and 1901. She refused each proposal, and in 1903, to his dismay, married the Irish nationalist Major John MacBride .  His only other love affair during this period was with Olivia Shakespear , whom he first met in 1894, and parted from in 1897.
Yeats derided MacBride in letters and in poetry. He was horrified by Gonne’s marriage, at losing his muse to another man; in addition, her conversion to Catholicism before marriage offended him, although he was Protestant/agnostic. He worried his muse would come under the influence of the priests and do their bidding. 
Gonne’s marriage to MacBride was a disaster. This pleased Yeats, as Gonne began to visit him in London. After the birth of her son, Seán MacBride , in 1904, Gonne and MacBride agreed to end the marriage, although they were unable to agree on the child’s welfare. Despite the use of intermediaries, a divorce case ensued in Paris in 1905. Gonne made a series of allegations against her husband with Yeats as her main ‘second’, though he did not attend court or travel to France. A divorce was not granted, for the only accusation that held up in court was that MacBride had been drunk once during the marriage. A separation was granted, with Gonne having custody of the baby and MacBride having visiting rights. 
Yeats’s friendship with Gonne ended, yet, in Paris in 1908, they finally consummated their relationship. “The long years of fidelity rewarded at last” was how another of his lovers described the event. Yeats was less sentimental and later remarked that “the tragedy of sexual intercourse is the perpetual virginity of the soul.”  The relationship did not develop into a new phase after their night together, and soon afterwards Gonne wrote to the poet indicating that despite the physical consummation, they could not continue as they had been: “I have prayed so hard to have all earthly desire taken from my love for you and dearest, loving you as I do, I have prayed and I am praying still that the bodily desire for me may be taken from you too.”  By January 1909, Gonne was sending Yeats letters praising the advantage given to artists who abstain from sex. Nearly twenty years later, Yeats recalled the night with Gonne in his poem “A Man Young and Old”: 
My arms are like the twisted thorn
And yet there beauty lay;
The first of all the tribe lay there
And did such pleasure take;
She who had brought great Hector down
And put all Troy to wreck.
In 1896, Yeats was introduced to Lady Gregory by their mutual friend Edward Martyn . Gregory encouraged Yeats’s nationalism, and convinced him to continue focusing on writing drama. Although he was influenced by French Symbolism , Yeats concentrated on an identifiably Irish content and this inclination was reinforced by his involvement with a new generation of younger and emerging Irish authors. Together with Lady Gregory, Martyn, and other writers including J. M. Synge , Seán O’Casey , and Padraic Colum , Yeats was one of those responsible for the establishment of the ” Irish Literary Revival ” movement.  Apart from these creative writers, much of the impetus for the Revival came from the work of scholarly translators who were aiding in the discovery of both the ancient sagas and Ossianic poetry and the more recent folk song tradition in Irish. One of the most significant of these was Douglas Hyde , later the first President of Ireland, whose Love Songs of Connacht was widely admired.
Abbey Theatre[ edit ]
Yeats photographed in 1908 by Alvin Langdon Coburn
In 1899, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and George Moore began the Irish Literary Theatre to present Irish plays.  The ideals of the Abbey were derived from the avant-garde French theatre, which sought to express the “ascendancy of the playwright rather than the actor-manager à l’anglais.”   The group’s manifesto, which Yeats wrote, declared, “We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted & imaginative audience trained to listen by its passion for oratory … & that freedom to experiment which is not found in the theatres of England, & without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed.” 
The collective survived for about two years but was not successful. Working with two Irish brothers with theatrical experience, William and Frank Fay , Yeats’s unpaid yet independently wealthy secretary Annie Horniman , and the leading West End actress Florence Farr , the group established the Irish National Theatre Society . Along with Synge, they acquired property in Dublin and on 27 December 1904 opened the Abbey Theatre . Yeats’s play Cathleen ni Houlihan and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News were featured on the opening night. Yeats remained involved with the Abbey until his death, both as a member of the board and a prolific playwright. In 1902, he helped set up the Dun Emer Press to publish work by writers associated with the Revival. This became the Cuala Press in 1904, and inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, sought to “find work for Irish hands in the making of beautiful things.”  From then until its closure in 1946, the press—which was run by the poet’s sisters—produced over 70 titles; 48 of them books by Yeats himself.
Yeats met the American poet Ezra Pound in 1909. Pound had travelled to London at least partly to meet the older man, whom he considered “the only poet worthy of serious study.”  From that year until 1916, the two men wintered in the Stone Cottage at Ashdown Forest , with Pound nominally acting as Yeats’s secretary. The relationship got off to a rocky start when Pound arranged for the publication in the magazine Poetry of some of Yeats’s verse with Pound’s own unauthorised alterations. These changes reflected Pound’s distaste for Victorian prosody. A more indirect influence was the scholarship on Japanese Noh plays that Pound had obtained from Ernest Fenollosa ‘s widow, which provided Yeats with a model for the aristocratic drama he intended to write. The first of his plays modelled on Noh was At the Hawk’s Well, the first draft of which he dictated to Pound in January 1916. 
The emergence of a nationalist revolutionary movement from the ranks of the mostly Roman Catholic lower-middle and working class made Yeats reassess some of his attitudes. In the refrain of ” Easter, 1916 ” (“All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born”), Yeats faces his own failure to recognise the merits of the leaders of the Easter Rising , due to his attitude towards their ordinary backgrounds and lives. 
Yeats was close to Lady Gregory and her home place of Coole Park, Co, Galway. He would often visit and stay there as it was a central meeting place for people who supported the resurgence of Irish literature and cultural traditions. His poem, ” The Wild Swans at Coole ” was written there, between 1916 and 1917.
He wrote prefaces for two books of Irish Mythological tales, compiled by Augusta, Lady Gregory : Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902), and Gods and Fighting Men (1904). In the preface of the later he wrote: “One must not expect in these stories the epic lineaments, the many incidents, woven into one great event of, let us say the War for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne, or that of the last gathering at Muirthemne.” 
Politics[ edit ]
Yeats was an Irish Nationalist , who sought a kind of traditional lifestyle articulated through poems such as ‘The Fisherman’. However, as his life progressed, he sheltered much of his revolutionary spirit and distanced himself from the intense political landscape until 1922 , when he was appointed Senator for the Irish Free State .  
In the earlier part of his life, Yeats was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood .  Due to the escalating tension of the political scene, Yeats distanced himself from the core political activism in the midst of the Easter Rising , even holding back his poetry inspired by the events until 1920.
In the 1930s Yeats was fascinated with the authoritarian, anti-democratic, nationalist movements of Europe, and he composed several marching songs for the far right Blueshirts , although they were never used. He was a fierce opponent of individualism and political liberalism, and saw the fascist movements as a triumph of public order and the needs of the national collective over petty individualism. On the other hand, he was also an elitist who abhorred the idea of mob-rule, and saw democracy as a threat to good governance and public order.  After the Blueshirt movement began to falter in Ireland, he distanced himself somewhat from his previous views, but maintained a preference for authoritarian and nationalist leadership. 
Marriage to Georgie Hyde Lees[ edit ]
Walter de la Mare , Bertha Georgie Yeats (née Hyde-Lees), William Butler Yeats, unknown woman, summer 1930; photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell
By 1916, Yeats was 51 years old and determined to marry and produce an heir. His rival John MacBride had been executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising , so Yeats hoped that his widow might remarry.  His final proposal to Maud Gonne took place in mid-1916.  Gonne’s history of revolutionary political activism, as well as a series of personal catastrophes in the previous few years of her life—including chloroform addiction and her troubled marriage to MacBride—made her a potentially unsuitable wife;  biographer R. F. Foster has observed that Yeats’s last offer was motivated more by a sense of duty than by a genuine desire to marry her.
Yeats proposed in an indifferent manner, with conditions attached, and he both expected and hoped she would turn him down. According to Foster “when he duly asked Maud to marry him, and was duly refused, his thoughts shifted with surprising speed to her daughter.” Iseult Gonne was Maud’s second child with Lucien Millevoye , and at the time was twenty-one years old. She had lived a sad life to this point; conceived as an attempt to reincarnate her short-lived brother, for the first few years of her life she was presented as her mother’s adopted niece. When Maud told her that she was going to marry, Iseult cried and told her mother that she hated MacBride.  When Gonne took action to divorce MacBride in 1905, the court heard allegations that he had sexually assaulted Iseult, then eleven. At fifteen, she proposed to Yeats. In 1917, he proposed to Iseult, but was rejected.
That September, Yeats proposed to 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees (1892–1968), known as George, whom he had met through Olivia Shakespear. Despite warnings from her friends—”George … you can’t. He must be dead”—Hyde-Lees accepted, and the two were married on 20 October.  Their marriage was a success, in spite of the age difference, and in spite of Yeats’s feelings of remorse and regret during their honeymoon. The couple went on to have two children, Anne and Michael . Although in later years he had romantic relationships with other women, Georgie herself wrote to her husband “When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs, but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were.” 
During the first years of marriage, they experimented with automatic writing ; she contacted a variety of spirits and guides they called “Instructors” while in a trance. The spirits communicated a complex and esoteric system of philosophy and history, which the couple developed into an exposition using geometrical shapes: phases, cones, and gyres.  Yeats devoted much time to preparing this material for publication as A Vision (1925). In 1924, he wrote to his publisher T. Werner Laurie, admitting: “I dare say I delude myself in thinking this book my book of books”. 
Nobel Prize[ edit ]
Yeats photographed in 1923
In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature , “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.  He was aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner so soon after Ireland had gained independence, and sought to highlight the fact at each available opportunity. His reply to many of the letters of congratulations sent to him contained the words: “I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State.” 
Yeats used the occasion of his acceptance lecture at the Royal Academy of Sweden to present himself as a standard-bearer of Irish nationalism and Irish cultural independence. As he remarked, “The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English traveling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players. When we thought of these plays we thought of everything that was romantic and poetical, because the nationalism we had called up—the nationalism every generation had called up in moments of discouragement—was romantic and poetical.”  The prize led to a significant increase in the sales of his books, as his publishers Macmillan sought to capitalise on the publicity. For the first time he had money, and he was able to repay not only his own debts, but those of his father. 
Old age and death[ edit ]
By early 1925, Yeats’s health had stabilised, and he had completed most of the writing for A Vision (dated 1925, it actually appeared in January 1926, when he almost immediately started rewriting it for a second version). He had been appointed to the first Irish Senate in 1922, and was re-appointed for a second term in 1925.  Early in his tenure, a debate on divorce arose, and Yeats viewed the issue as primarily a confrontation between the emerging Roman Catholic ethos and the Protestant minority.  When the Roman Catholic Church weighed in with a blanket refusal to consider their anti position, the Irish Times countered that a measure to outlaw divorce would alienate Protestants and “crystallise” the partition of Ireland .
In response, Yeats delivered a series of speeches that attacked the “quixotically impressive” ambitions of the government and clergy, likening their campaign tactics to those of “medieval Spain.”  “Marriage is not to us a Sacrament, but, upon the other hand, the love of a man and woman, and the inseparable physical desire, are sacred. This conviction has come to us through ancient philosophy and modern literature, and it seems to us a most sacrilegious thing to persuade two people who hate each other … to live together, and it is to us no remedy to permit them to part if neither can re-marry.”  The resulting debate has been described as one of Yeats’s “supreme public moments”, and began his ideological move away from pluralism towards religious confrontation. 
William Butler Yeats, 1933; photo by Pirie MacDonald ( Library of Congress )
His language became more forceful; the Jesuit Father Peter Finlay was described by Yeats as a man of “monstrous discourtesy”, and he lamented that, “It is one of the glories of the Church in which I was born that we have put our Bishops in their place in discussions requiring legislation”.  During his time in the Senate, Yeats further warned his colleagues: “If you show that this country, southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Roman Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North … You will put a wedge in the midst of this nation”.  He memorably said of his fellow Irish Protestants, “we are no petty people”.
In 1924, he chaired a coinage committee charged with selecting a set of designs for the first currency of the Irish Free State . Aware of the symbolic power latent in the imagery of a young state’s currency, he sought a form that was “elegant, racy of the soil, and utterly unpolitical”.  When the house finally decided on the artwork of Percy Metcalfe , Yeats was pleased, though he regretted that compromise had led to “lost muscular tension” in the finally depicted images.  He retired from the Senate in 1928 because of ill health.
Towards the end of his life—and especially after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and Great Depression , which led some to question whether democracy could cope with deep economic difficulty—Yeats seems to have returned to his aristocratic sympathies. During the aftermath of the First World War, he became sceptical about the efficacy of democratic government, and anticipated political reconstruction in Europe through totalitarian rule.  His later association with Pound drew him towards Benito Mussolini , for whom he expressed admiration on a number of occasions.  He wrote three “marching songs”—never used—for the Irish General Eoin O’Duffy ‘s Blueshirts .
Chantry House , Steyning . A plaque on the wall reads “William Butler Yeats 1865-1939 wrote many of his later poems in this house”.
At the age of 69 he was ‘rejuvenated’ by the Steinach operation which was performed on 6 April 1934 by Norman Haire .  For the last five years of his life Yeats found a new vigour evident from both his poetry and his intimate relations with younger women.  During this time, Yeats was involved in a number of romantic affairs with, among others, the poet and actress Margot Ruddock , and the novelist, journalist and sexual radical Ethel Mannin .  As in his earlier life, Yeats found erotic adventure conducive to his creative energy, and, despite age and ill-health, he remained a prolific writer. In a letter of 1935, Yeats noted: “I find my present weakness made worse by the strange second puberty the operation has given me, the ferment that has come upon my imagination. If I write poetry it will be unlike anything I have done”.  In 1936, he undertook editorship of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935 . 
He died at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton , France, on 28 January 1939, aged 73.  He was buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin . Attempts had been made at Roquebrune to dissuade the family from proceeding with the removal of the remains to Ireland due to the uncertainty of their identity. His body had earlier been exhumed and transferred to the ossuary .  Yeats and George had often discussed his death, and his express wish was that he be buried quickly in France with a minimum of fuss. According to George, “His actual words were ‘If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo’.”  In September 1948, Yeats’s body was moved to the churchyard of St Columba’s Church , Drumcliff , County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette LÉ Macha .  The person in charge of this operation for the Irish Government was Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne MacBride, and then Minister of External Affairs.  His epitaph is taken from the last lines of ” Under Ben Bulben “,  one of his final poems:
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!
French ambassador Stanislas Ostroróg was involved in returning the remains of the Irish poet from France to Ireland in 1948; in a letter to the European director of the Foreign Ministry in Paris “Ostrorog tells how Yeats’s son Michael sought official help in locating the poet’s remains. Neither Michael Yeats nor Sean MacBride , the Irish foreign minister who organised the ceremony, wanted to know the details of how the remains were collected, Ostrorog notes. He repeatedly urges caution and discretion and says the Irish ambassador in Paris should not be informed.” Yeats’ body was exhumed in 1946 and the remains were moved to on ossuary and mixed with other remains. The French Foreign Ministry authorized Ostrorog to secretly cover the cost of repatriation from his slush fund. Authorities were worried about the fact that the much-loved poet’s remains were thrown into a communal grave, causing embarrassment for both Ireland and France. “Mr Rebouillat, (a) forensic doctor in Roquebrune would be able to reconstitute a skeleton presenting all the characteristics of the deceased.” per a letter from Ostroróg to his superiors. 
Style[ edit ]
Yeats is generally considered one of the twentieth century key English language poets. He was a Symbolist poet, using allusive imagery and symbolic structures throughout his career. He chose words and assembled them so that, in addition to a particular meaning, they suggest abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant. His use of symbols  is usually something physical that is both itself and a suggestion of other, perhaps immaterial, timeless qualities. 
Yeats as depicted on the Irish £20 banknote , issued 1976–1993
Unlike other modernists who experimented with free verse , Yeats was a master of the traditional forms.  The impact of modernism on his work can be seen in the increasing abandonment of the more conventionally poetic diction of his early work in favour of the more austere language and more direct approach to his themes that increasingly characterises the poetry and plays of his middle period, comprising the volumes In the Seven Woods, Responsibilities and The Green Helmet.  His later poetry and plays are written in a more personal vein, and the works written in the last twenty years of his life include mention of his son and daughter,  as well as meditations on the experience of growing old.  In his poem, ” The Circus Animals’ Desertion “, he describes the inspiration for these late works:
Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. 
During 1929, he stayed at Thoor Ballylee near Gort in County Galway (where Yeats had his summer home since 1919) for the last time. Much of the remainder of his life was lived outside Ireland, although he did lease Riversdale house in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham in 1932. He wrote prolifically through his final years, and published poetry, plays, and prose. In 1938, he attended the Abbey for the final time to see the premiere of his play Purgatory . His Autobiographies of William Butler Yeats was published that same year.  In 1913, Yeats wrote the preface for the English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali ( Song Offering ) for which Tagore received Nobel Prize in literature. 
“A Coat” on a wall in Leiden
While Yeats’s early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore , his later work was engaged with more contemporary issues, and his style underwent a dramatic transformation. His work can be divided into three general periods. The early poems are lushly pre-Raphaelite in tone, self-consciously ornate, and, at times, according to unsympathetic critics, stilted. Yeats began by writing epic poems such as The Isle of Statues and The Wanderings of Oisin .  His other early poems are lyrics on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects. Yeats’s middle period saw him abandon the pre-Raphaelite character of his early work  and attempt to turn himself into a Landor -style social ironist. 
Critics who admire his middle work might characterize it as supple and muscular in its rhythms and sometimes harshly modernist, while others find these poems barren and weak in imaginative power. Yeats’s later work found new imaginative inspiration in the mystical system he began to work out for himself under the influence of spiritualism . In many ways, this poetry is a return to the vision of his earlier work. The opposition between the worldly minded man of the sword and the spiritually minded man of God, the theme of The Wanderings of Oisin, is reproduced in A Dialogue Between Self and Soul. 
Some critics claim that Yeats spanned the transition from the nineteenth century into twentieth-century modernism in poetry much as Pablo Picasso did in painting while others question whether late Yeats has much in common with modernists of the Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot variety. 
Modernists read the well-known poem ” The Second Coming ” as a dirge for the decline of European civilisation, but it also expresses Yeats’s apocalyptic mystical theories, and is shaped by the 1890s. His most important collections of poetry started with The Green Helmet (1910) and Responsibilities (1914). In imagery, Yeats’s poetry became sparer and more powerful as he grew older. The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair (1933), and New Poems (1938) contained some of the most potent images in twentieth-century poetry. 
Yeats’s mystical inclinations, informed by Hinduism, theosophical beliefs and the occult , provided much of the basis of his late poetry,  which some critics have judged as lacking in intellectual credibility. The metaphysics of Yeats’s late works must be read in relation to his system of esoteric fundamentals in A Vision (1925). 
Legacy[ edit ]
Yeats is commemorated in Sligo town by a statue, created in 1989 by sculptor Ronan Gillespie. It was erected outside the Ulster Bank , at the corner of Stephen Street and Markievicz Road, on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death. Yeats had remarked, on receiving his Nobel Prize that the Royal Palace in Stockholm “resembled the Ulster Bank in Sligo”. Across the river is the Yeats Memorial Building, home to the Sligo Yeats Society. 
Notes[ edit ]
- ^ Pronounced // YAYTS , rhyming with gates.
- ^ Daemon est Deus inversus is taken from the writings of Madame Blavatsky in which she claimed that “… even that divine Homogeneity must contain in itself the essence of both good and evil”, and uses the motto as a symbol of the astral plane’s light.
- ^ Gonne claimed they first met in London three years earlier. Foster notes how Gonne was “notoriously unreliable on dates and places (1997, p. 57).
References[ edit ]
- ^ Pierce, David (2000). Irish writing in the 20th century: a reader. Literary Collections. p. 293. ISBN 1-85918-258-5 .
- ^ a b c Obituary. ” W. B. Yeats Dead “. The New York Times, 30 January 1939. Retrieved on 21 May 2007.
- ^ Jeffares, A. Norman. W. B. Yeats, Man and Poet. Palgrave Macmillan, 1996. 1
- ^ Conner, Lester I.; Conner, Lester I. (2 May 1998). “A Yeats Dictionary: Persons and Places in the Poetry of William Butler Yeats” . Syracuse University Press. Retrieved 2 May 2018 – via Google Books.
- ^ Limerick Chronicle, 13 August 1763
- ^ Margaret M. Phelan . “Journal of the Butler Society 1982. Gowran, its connection with the Butler Family” . p. 174.
- ^ “Ricorso: Digital materials for the study and appreciation of Anglo-Irish Literature” . www.ricorso.net. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
- ^ The Collected Poems (1994), vii
- ^ W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (1956), p. 12. London: Macmillan.
- ^ Gordon Bowe, Nicola. “Two Early Twentieth-Century Irish Arts and Crafts Workshops in Context”. Journal of Design History, Vol. 2, No. 2/3 (1989). 193–206
- ^ Foster (1997), p. xxviii
- ^ Foster (1997), p. xxvii
- ^ Foster (1997), p, 24
- ^ Hone (1943), 28
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 25
- ^ Sessa, Anne Dzamba; Richard Wagner and the English; p. 130. ISBN 0-8386-2055-8
- ^ Jordan (2003), p. 119
- ^ Hone (1943), p. 33
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 37
- ^ Paulin, Tom . Taylor & Francis, 2004. ” The Poems of William Blake “. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
- ^ Hone (1943), 83
- ^ Alford, Norman. “The Rhymers” Club: Poets of the Tragic Generation”. Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 50, No. 4, March 1996, pp. 535–538
- ^ Lancashire, Ian. “William Blake (1757–1827): Archived 14 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine .. Department of English, University of Toronto, 2005. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
- ^ “Archived copy” . Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
- ^ Burke, Martin J. ” Daidra from Philadelphia: Thomas Holley, Chivers and The Sons of Usna “. Columbia University , 7 October 2005. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
- ^ Ellmann, Richard (1948). Yeats: The Man and the Masks. (New York) Macmillan. 94
- ^ Mendelson, Edward (ed.) “W. H. Auden” Archived 10 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine .. The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Vol. II, 1939–1948, 2002. Retrieved on 26 May 2007.
- ^ Foster (1997), pp. 82–85
- ^ Alspach, Russell K. “The Use by Yeats and Other Irish Writers of the Folklore of Patrick Kennedy”. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 59, No. 234, December 1946, pp. 404–412
- ^ Gould, Warwick (2004). “Gyles, Margaret Alethea (1868–1949)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . Oxford University Press. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
- ^ Nally, Claire V. “National Identity Formation in W. B. Yeats’ A Vision“. Irish Studies Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, February 2006, pp. 57–67
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 103
- ^ Cullingford, Elizabeth. “How Jacques Molay Got Up the Tower: Yeats and the Irish Civil War”. English Literary History, Vol. 50, No. 4, 1983, pp. 763–789
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 57
- ^ Uddin Khan, Jalal. “Yeats and Maud Gonne: (Auto)biographical and Artistic Intersection”. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 2002.
- ^ Foster (1997), pp. 86–87
- ^ “William Butler Yeats”. BBC Four . “William Butler Yeats 1865–1939” . Archived from the original on 5 February 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
- ^ a b c d Cahill, Christopher. “Second Puberty: The Later Years of W. B. Yeats Brought His Best Poetry, along with Personal Melodrama on an Epic Scale”. The Atlantic Monthly, December 2003.
- ^ a b Ó Corráin, Donnchadh. ” William Butler Yeats Archived 2 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine .”. University College Cork . Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
- ^ Jordan (2003), pp. 139–153; Jordan (1997), pp. 83–88
- ^ Jordan (2000), pp. 13–141
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 394
- ^ Malins; Purkis (1994), p. 124
- ^ Corcoran, Neil. After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. viii
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 486, 662
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 183
- ^ Text reproduced from Yeats’s own handwritten draft.
- ^ Foster (1997), p. 184
- ^ “Irish Genius: The Yeats Family and The Cuala Press” . Trinity College Dublin , 12 February 2004. Retrieved on 2 June 2007.
- ^ Monroe, Harriet (1913). “Poetry”. (Chicago) Modern Poetry Association. 123
- ^ Sands, Maren. ” The Influence of Japanese Noh Theater on Yeats “. Colorado State University. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 59–66
- ^ Lady Gregory, Augusta (1904), Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland , p. xiv
- ^ Sanford, John (18 April 2001). “Roy Foster: Yeats emerged as poet of Irish Revolution,despite past political beliefs” . Stanford University. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
- ^ “Mr. William Butler Yeats” . Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
- ^ Sternlicht, Sanford V. A Reader’s Guide to Modern Irish Drama, Syracuse University Press, 1998, p. 48
- ^ Nally, Claire. 2010. Envisioning Ireland: W. B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism. Peter Lang
- ^ Allison, Jonathan (ed.). 1996. Yeats’s Political Identities: Selected Essays. University of Michigan Press
- ^ Jordan (2003), p. 107
- ^ Mann, Neil. “An Overview of A Vision” . The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
- ^ Gonne MacBride, Maud. A Servant of the Queen. Gollanz, 1938 pp. 287–289
- ^ Brown, Terence. The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography”. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001, p. 347. ISBN 0-631-22851-9
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 105, 383
- ^ Mann, Neil. “Letter 27 July 1924” . The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
- ^ “Nobel Prize in Literature 1923” . NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 245
- ^ a b Moses, Michael Valdez. ” The Poet As Politician “. Reason, February 2001. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 246–247
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 228–239
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 293
- ^ a b c Foster (2003), p. 294
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 296
- ^ ” “Seanad Resumes: Debate on Divorce Legislation Resumed” Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine .”. Seanad Éireann , Vol. 5, 11 June 1925. Retrieved on 26 May 2007.
- ^ a b Foster (2003), p. 333
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 468
- ^ Wyndham, Diana; Kirby, Michael (2012), Norman Haire and the Study of Sex, Sydney University Press, Foreword, and pp. 249–263, ISBN 978-1-74332-006-8
- ^ “The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats” . National Library of Ireland (search for Steinach). Retrieved on 19 October 2008.
- ^ Foster (2003), pp. 504, 510–511
- ^ Letter to Dorothy Wellesley, 17 June 1935; cited Ellmann , “Yeats’s Second Puberty”, The New York Review of Books , 9 May 1985
- ^ Jordan (2003), p. 114
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 651
- ^ Foster (2003), p. 656
- ^ Jordan (2003), p. 115
- ^ Allen, James Lovic. “‘Imitate Him If You Dare’: Relationships between the Epitaphs of Swift and Yeats”. An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 70, No. 278/279, 1981, p. 177
- ^ “The Documents” . The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
- ^ Ulanov, Barry . Makers of the Modern Theater. McGraw-Hill, 1961
- ^ Gale Research International. Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, No. 116. Gale Cengage Learning, 2002, p. 303
- ^ Finneran, Richard. Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies 1995. University of Michigan Press, 1997. 82
- ^ Logenbach, James. Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 13–14
- ^ Bell, Vereen. Yeats and the logic of formalism. University of Missouri Press, 2006. 132
- ^ Seiden, Morton. William Butler Yeats. Michigan State University Press, 1962, p. 179
- ^ O’Neill (2003) , p. 6.
- ^ Martin, Wallace. Review of “Tragic Knowledge: Yeats’ “Autobiography” and Hermeneutics” by Daniel T. O’Hara. Contemporary Literature. Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 1982, pp. 239–243
- ^ Paul, S. K. (1 January 2006). The Complete Poems of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali: Texts and Critical Evaluation . Sarup & Sons. p. 29. ISBN 8176256609 .
- ^ Howes, Marjorie. Yeats’s nations: gender, class, and Irishness. Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 28–31
- ^ Seiden, 153
- ^ Bloom, Harold. Yeats. Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 168 ISBN 0-19-501603-3
- ^ Raine, Kathleen . Yeats the Initiate. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1990, pp. 327–329. ISBN 0-389-20951-1
- ^ Holdeman, David. The Cambridge Introduction to W. B. Yeats. Cambridge University Press, 2006 ISBN 9780521547376 , p. 80
- ^ Spanos, William. ″Sacramental Imagery in the Middle and Late Poetry of W. B. Yeats.″ Texas Studies in Literature and Language. (1962) Vol. 4, No. 2. pp. 214-228.
- ^ Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. Transforming the Center, Eroding the Margins. University of Rochester Press, 2004, p. 282. ISBN 1-58046-175-1
- ^ Powell, Grosvenor E. “Yeats’s Second Vision: Berkeley, Coleridge, and the Correspondence with Sturge Moore”. The Modern Language Review, Vol. 76, No. 2, April 1981, p. 273
- ^ “Sligo: W.B. Yeats Statue” . atriptoireland.com. 8 July 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
Sources[ edit ]
- Cleeve, Brian (1972). W. B. Yeats and the Designing of Ireland’s Coinage. New York: Dolmen Press. ISBN 0-85105-221-5
- Foster, R. F. (1997). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage . Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-288085-3
- Foster, R. F. (2003). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. II: The Arch-Poet 1915–1939 . Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-818465-4
- Hone, Joseph (1943). W. B. Yeats, 1865–1939. New York: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 35607726
- Igoe, Vivien (1994). A Literary Guide to Dublin. Methuen Publishing. ISBN 0-413-69120-9
- Jordan Anthony J. (1997). Willie Yeats & The Gonne-MacBrides. Westport Books ISBN 0-9524447-1-2
- Jordan, Anthony J. (2000). The Yeats Gonne MacBride Triangle. Westport Books ISBN 0-9524447-4-7
- Jordan, Anthony J. (2003). W. B. Yeats: Vain, Glorious, Lout – A Maker of Modern Ireland. Westport Books. ISBN 0-9524447-2-0
- Jordan, Anthony J. (2013). Arthur Griffith with James Joyce & WB Yeats – Liberating Ireland Westport Books. ISBN 978-0-9576229-0-6 .
- Longenbach, James (1988). Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506662-6
- O’Neill, Michael (2003). Routledge Literary Sourcebook on the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-23475-1 .
- Ryan, Philip B. (1998). The Lost Theatres of Dublin. Wiltshire: The Badger Press. ISBN 0-9526076-1-1
- Yeats, W. B. (1994). The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Wordsworth Poetry Library. ISBN 1-85326-454-7
- Yeats, W. B. (1900). ” The Philosophy of Shelley’s Poetry “, in Essays and Introductions, 1961. New York: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 362823
External links[ edit ]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to W. B. Yeats .|
| Wikisource has original works written by or about:|
William Butler Yeats
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: W. B. Yeats|
|Presentation by R.F. Foster on W.B. Yeats: A Life: The Apprentice Mage, December 7, 1997 , C-SPAN|
- The National Library of Ireland’s exhibition, Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats
- Works by W. B. Yeats at Project Gutenberg
- Yeats’ correspondence and other archival records at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Special Collections Research Center
- Recordings of 24 lectures Donald Davie gave at Stanford in 1975 on W. B. Yeats
- Yeats and Mysticism , BBC Radio 4 discussion with Roy Foster, Warwick Gould and Brenda Maddox (In Our Time, 31 January 2002)
- Yeats and Irish Politics , BBC Radio 4 discussion with Roy Foster, Fran Brearton & Warwick Gould (In Our Time, Apr. 17, 2008)
- Newspaper clippings about W. B. Yeats in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
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About World War I
"Total War I: The Great War"
by John Bourne
The First World War was truly the Great War. Its
origins were complex. Its scale was vast. Its conduct was intense. Its impact on military
operations was revolutionary. Its human and material costs were enormous. And its results
The war was a global conflict. Thirty-two nations were eventually involved.
Twenty-eight of these constituted the Allied and Associated Powers, whose principal
belligerents were the British Empire, France, Italy, Russia, Serbia, and the United States
of America. They were opposed by the Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany,
and the Ottoman Empire.
The war began in the Balkan cockpit of competing nationalisms and ancient ethnic
rivalries. Hopes that it could be contained there proved vain. Expansion of the war was
swift. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914; Germany declared war on
Russia on 1 August. Germany declared war on France on 3 August and invaded Belgium. France
was invaded on 4 August. German violation of Belgian neutrality provided the British with
a convenient excuse to enter the war on the side of France and Russia the same evening.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 6 August. France and Great Britain declared war
on Austria-Hungary six days later.
The underlying causes of these events have been intensively researched and debated.
Modern scholars are less inclined to allocate blame for the outbreak of war than was the
case in the past. They have sought instead to understand the fears and ambitions of the
governing �lites of Europe who took the fateful decisions for war, particularly that of
Fears were more important than ambitions. Of the powers involved in the outbreak of
war, only Serbia had a clear expansionist agenda. The French hoped to recover the
provinces of Alsace and Lorraine lost to Germany as a result of their defeat in the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, but this was regarded as an attempt at restitution rather
than acquisition. Otherwise, defensive considerations were paramount. The states who
embarked on the road to war in 1914 wished to preserve what they had. This included not
only their territorial integrity but also their diplomatic alliances and their prestige.
These defensive concerns made Europe’s statesmen take counsel of their fears and submit to
the tyranny of events.
The Austrians feared for the survival of their multi-racial Empire if they did not
confront the threat of Serb nationalism and Panslavism. The Germans feared the
consequences to themselves of allowing Austria, their closest and only reliable ally, to
be weakened and humiliated. The Russians feared the threat to their prestige and authority
as protector of the Slavs if they allowed Austria to defeat and humiliate Serbia. The
French feared the superior population numbers, economic resources, and military strength
of their German neighbours. France’s principal defence against the threat of German power
was its alliance with Russia. This it was imperative to defend. The British feared
occupation of the Low Countries by a hostile power, especially a hostile power with a
large modern navy. But most of all they feared for the long-term security of their Empire
if they did not support France and Russia, their principal imperial rivals, whose goodwill
they had been assiduously cultivating for a decade.
All governments feared their peoples. Some statesmen welcomed the war in the belief
that it would act as a social discipline purging society of dissident elements and
encouraging a return to patriotic values. Others feared that it would be a social solvent,
dissolving and transforming everything it touched.
The process of expansion did not end in August 1914. Other major belligerents took
their time and waited upon events. Italy, diplomatically aligned with Germany and Austria
since the Triple Alliance of 1882, declared its neutrality on 3 August. In the following
months it was ardently courted by France and Britain. On 23 May 1915 the Italian
government succumbed to Allied temptations and declared war on Austria-Hungary in pursuit
of territorial aggrandizement in the Trentino. Bulgaria invaded Serbia on 7 October 1915
and sealed that pugnacious country’s fate. Serbia was overrun. The road to Constantinople
was opened to the Central Powers. Romania prevaricated about which side to join, but
finally chose the Allies in August 1916, encouraged by the success of the Russian
‘Brusilov Offensive’. It was a fatal miscalculation. The German response was swift and
decisive. Romania was rapidly overwhelmed by two invading German armies and its rich
supplies of wheat and oil did much to keep Germany in the war for another two years.
Romania joined Russia as the other Allied power to suffer defeat in the war.
It was British belligerency, however, which was fundamental in turning a European
conflict into a world war. Britain was the world’s greatest imperial power. The British
had world-wide interests and world-wide dilemmas. They also had world-wide friends.
Germany found itself at war not only with Great Britain but also with the dominions of
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa and with the greatest British imperial
possession, India. Concern for the defence of India helped bring the British into conflict
with the Ottoman Empire in November 1914 and resulted in a major war in the Middle East.
Most important of all, perhaps, Britain’s close political, economic, and cultural ties
with the United States of America, if they did not ensure that nation’s eventual entry
into the war, certainly made it possible. The American declaration of war on Germany on 6
April 1917 was a landmark not only in the history of the United States but also in that of
Europe and the world, bringing to an end half a millennium of European domination and
ushering in ‘the American century’.
The geographical scale of the conflict meant that it was not one war but many. On the
Western Front in France and Belgium the French and their British allies, reinforced from
1917 onwards by the Americans, were locked in a savage battle of attrition against the
German army. Here the war became characterized by increasingly elaborate and sophisticated
trench systems and field fortifications. Dense belts of barbed wire, concrete pillboxes,
intersecting arcs of machine-gun fire, and accumulating masses of quick-firing field and
heavy artillery rendered manuvre virtually impossible. Casualties were enormous.
The first phase of the war in the west lasted until November 1914. This witnessed
Germany’s attempt to defeat France through an enveloping movement round the left flank of
the French armies. The plan met with initial success. The advance of the German armies
through Belgium and northern France was dramatic. The French, responding with an offensive
in Lorraine, suffered an almost catastrophic national defeat. France was saved by the iron
nerve of its commander-in-chief, General J. J. C. Joffre, who had not only the
intelligence but also the strength of character to extricate himself from the ruin of his
plans and order the historic counter-attack against the German right wing, the ‘miracle of
the Marne’. The German armies were forced to retreat and to entrench. Their last attempt
at a breakthrough was stopped by French and British forces near the small Flemish market
town of Ypres in November. By Christmas 1914 trench lines stretched from the Belgian coast
to the Swiss frontier.
Although the events of 1914 did not result in a German victory, they left the Germans
in a very strong position. The German army held the strategic initiative. It was free to
retreat to positions of tactical advantage and to reinforce them with all the skill and
ingenuity of German military engineering. Enormous losses had been inflicted on France.
Two-fifths of France’s military casualties were incurred in 1914. These included a tenth
of the officer corps. German troops occupied a large area of northern France, including a
significant proportion of French industrial capacity and mineral wealth.
These realities dominated the second phase of the war in the west. This lasted from
November 1914 until March 1918. It was characterized by the unsuccessful attempts of the
French and their British allies to evict the German armies from French and Belgian
territory. During this period the Germans stood mainly on the defensive, but they showed
during the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April-25 May 1915), and more especially during the
Battle of Verdun (21 February-18 December 1916), a dangerous capacity to disrupt their
The French made three major assaults on the German line: in the spring of 1915 in
Artois; in the autumn of 1915 in Champagne; and in the spring of 1917 on the Aisne (the
‘Nivelle Offensive’). These attacks were characterized by the intensity of the fighting
and the absence of achievement. Little ground was gained. No positions of strategic
significance were captured. Casualties were severe. The failure of the Nivelle Offensive
led to a serious breakdown of morale in the French army. For much of the rest of 1917 it
was incapable of major offensive action.
The British fared little better. Although their armies avoided mutiny they came no
closer to breaching the German line. During the battles of the Somme (1 July19 November
1916) and the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July-12 November 1917) they inflicted great losses
on the German army at great cost to themselves, but the German line held and no end to the
war appeared in sight.
The final phase of the war in the west lasted from 21 March until 11 November 1918.
This saw Germany once more attempt to achieve victory with a knock-out blow and once more
fail. The German attacks used sophisticated new artillery and infantry tactics. They
enjoyed spectacular success. The British 5th Army on the Somme suffered a major defeat.
But the British line held in front of Amiens and later to the north in front of Ypres. No
real strategic damage was done. By midsummer the German attacks had petered out. The
German offensive broke the trench deadlock and returned movement and manuvre to the
strategic agenda. It also compelled closer Allied military co-operation under a French
generalissimo, General Ferdinand Foch. The Allied counter-offensive began in July. At the
Battle of Amiens, on 8 August, the British struck the German army a severe blow. For the
rest of the war in the west the Germans were in retreat.
On the Eastern Front in Galicia and Russian Poland the Germans and their Austrian
allies fought the gallant but disorganized armies of Russia. Here the distances involved
were very great. Artillery densities were correspondingly less. Manuvre was always
possible and cavalry could operate effectively. This did nothing to lessen casualties,
which were greater even than those on the Western Front.
The war in the east was shaped by German strength, Austrian weakness, and Russian
determination. German military superiority was apparent from the start of the war. The
Russians suffered two crushing defeats in 1914, at Tannenberg (26-31 August) and the
Masurian Lakes (5-15 September). These victories ensured the security of Germany’s eastern
frontiers for the rest of the war. They also established the military legend of
Field-Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, who emerged as principal
directors of the German war effort in the autumn of 1916. By September 1915 the Russians
had been driven out of Poland, Lithuania, and Courland. Austro-German armies occupied
Warsaw and the Russian frontier fortresses of Ivangorod, Kovno, Novo-Georgievsk, and
These defeats proved costly to Russia. They also proved costly to Austria. Austria had
a disastrous war. Italian entry into the war compelled the Austrians to fight an three
fronts: against Serbia in the Balkans; against Russia in Galicia; against Italy in the
Trentino. This proved too much for Austrian strength. Their war effort was characterized
by dependency on Germany. Germans complained that they were shackled to the ‘Austrian
corpse’. The war exacerbated the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s many ethnic and national
tensions. By 1918 Austria was weary of the war and desperate for peace. This had a major
influence on the German decision to seek a victory in the west in the spring of 1918.
Perceptions of the Russian war effort have been overshadowed by the October Revolution
of 1917 and by Bolshevik ‘revolutionary defeatism’ which acquiesced in the punitive Treaty
of Brest-Litovsk (14 March 1918) and took Russia out of the war. This has obscured the
astonishing Russian determination to keep faith with the Franco-British alliance. Without
the Russian contribution in the east it is far from certain that Germany could have been
defeated in the west. The unhesitating Russian willingness to aid their western allies is
nowhere more apparent than in the ‘Brusilov Offensive’ (June-September 1916), which
resulted in the capture of the Bukovina and large parts of Galicia, as well as 350,000
Austrian prisoners, but at a cost to Russia which ultimately proved mortal.
In southern Europe the Italian army fought eleven indecisive battles in an attempt to
dislodge the Austrians from their mountain strongholds beyond the Isonzo river. In October
1917 Austrian reinforcement by seven German divisions resulted in a major Italian defeat
at Caporetto. The Italians were pushed back beyond the Piave. This defeat produced changes
in the Italian high command. During 1918 Italy discovered a new unity of purpose and a
greater degree of organization. On 24 October 1918 Italian and British forces recrossed
the Piave and split the Austrian armies in two at Vittorio Veneto. Austrian retreat turned
into rout and then into surrender.
In the Balkans the Serbs fought the Austrians and Bulgarians, suffering massive
casualties, including the highest proportion of servicemen killed of any belligerent
power. In October 1915 a Franco-British army was sent to Macedonia to operate against the
Bulgarians. It struggled to have any influence on the war. The Germans mocked it and
declared Salonika to be the biggest internment camp in Europe, but the French and British
eventually broke out of the malarial plains into the mountainous valleys of the Vardar and
Struma rivers before inflicting defeat on Bulgaria in the autumn of 1918.
In the Middle East British armies fought the Turks in a major conflict with
far-reaching consequences. Here the war was characterized by the doggedness of Turkish
resistance and by the constant struggle against climate, terrain, and disease. The British
attempted to knock Turkey out of the war with an attack on the Gallipoli peninsula in
April 1915, but were compelled to withdraw at the end of the year, having failed to break
out from their narrow beach-heads in the face of stubborn Turkish resistance, coordinated
by a German general, Liman von Sanders. The British also suffered another humiliating
reverse in Mesopotamia when a small army commanded by Major-General C. V. F. Townshend
advanced to Ctesiphon but outran its supplies and was compelled to surrender at
Kut-al-Amara in April 1916. Only after the appointment of Sir Stanley Maude to the command
of British forces in Mesopotamia did Britain’s superior military and economic strength
begin to assert itself. Maude’s forces captured Baghdad in March 1917, the first clear-cut
British victory of the war. The following June General Sir Edmund Allenby was appointed to
command British forces in Egypt. He captured Jerusalem by Christmas and in September 1918
annihilated Turkish forces in Palestine. Turkey surrendered on 31 October 1918.
The war also found its way to tropical Africa. Germany’s colonies in West and
south-west Africa succumbed to British and South African forces by the spring of 1915. In
East Africa, however, a German army of locally raised black African soldiers commanded by
Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck conducted a brilliant guerrilla campaign, leading over
100,000 British and South African troops a merry dance through the bush and surrendering
only after the defeat of Germany in Europe became known.
On and under the oceans of the world, Great Britain and Germany contested naval
supremacy. Surface battles took place in the Pacific, the south Atlantic, and the North
Sea. The British generally had the better of these despite suffering some disappointments,
notably at Coronel (1 November 1914) and Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916), the only major
fleet engagement, during which Admiral Sir John Jellicoe failed to deliver the expected
Nelsonic victory of total annihilation. Submarine warfare took place in the North Sea, the
Black Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic. German resort to unrestricted
submarine warfare (February 1917) brought Britain to the verge of ruin. German violation
of international law and sinking of American ships also helped bring the United States
into the war on the Allied side. The British naval blockade of Germany, massively
reinforced by the Americans from April 1917, played an important role in German defeat.
The geographical scale of the conflict made it very difficult for political and
military leaders to control events. The obligations of coalition inhibited strategic
independence. Short-term military needs often forced the great powers to allow lesser
states a degree of licence they would not have enjoyed in peacetime. Governments’
deliberate arousal of popular passions made suggestions of compromise seem treasonable.
The ever-rising cost of the military means inflated the political ends. Hopes of a
peaceful new world order began to replace old diplomatic abstractions such as ‘the balance
of power’. Rationality went out of season. War aims were obscured. Strategies were
distorted. Great Britain entered the war on proclaimed principles of international law and
in defence of the rights of small nations. By 1918 the British government was pursuing a
Middle Eastern policy of naked imperialism (in collaboration with the French), while
simultaneously encouraging the aspirations of Arab nationalism and promising support for
the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. It was truly a war of illusions.
Europe’s political and military leaders have been subjected to much retrospective
criticism for their belief that the war would be over by Christmas’. This belief was
not based on complacency. Even those who predicted with chilling accuracy the murderous
nature of First World War battlefields, such as the Polish banker Jan Bloch, expected the
war to be short. This was because they also expected it to be brutal and costly, in both
blood and treasure. No state could be expected to sustain such a war for very long without
The war which gave the lie to these assumptions was the American Civil War. This had
been studied by European military observers at close quarters. Most, however, dismissed
it. This was particularly true of the Prussians. Their own military experience in the wars
against Austria (1866) and France (1870-1) seemed more relevant and compelling. These wars
were both short. They were also instrumental. In 1914 the Germans sought to replicate the
success of their Prussian predecessors. They aimed to fight a ‘cabinet war’ on the
Bismarckian model. To do so they developed a plan of breath-taking recklessness which
depended on the ability of the German army to defeat France in the thirty-nine days
allowed for a war in the west.
Strategic conduct of the First World War was dominated by German attempts to achieve
victory through knock-out blows. Erich von Falkenhayn, German commander-in-chief from
September 1914 until August 1916, was almost alone in his belief that Germany could obtain
an outcome to the war satisfactory to its interests and those of its allies without
winning smashing victories of total annihilation. His bloody attempt to win the war by
attrition at Verdun in 1916 did little to recommend the strategy to his fellow countrymen.
The preference for knock-out blows remained. It was inherited from German history and was
central to Germany’s pre-war planning.
Pre-war German strategy was haunted by the fear of a war on two fronts, against France
in the west and Russia in the east. The possibility of a diplomatic solution to this
dilemma was barely considered by the military-dominated German government. A military
solution was sought instead. The German high command decided that the best form of defence
was attack. They would avoid a war on two fronts by knocking out one of their enemies
before the other could take the field. The enemy with the slowest military mobilization
was Russia. The French army would be in the field first. France was therefore chosen to
receive the first blow. Once France was defeated the German armies would turn east and
The Schlieffen Plan rested on two assumptions: that it would take the Russians six
weeks to put an army into the field; and that six weeks was long enough to defeat France.
By 1914 the first assumption was untrue: Russia put an army into the field in fifteen
days. The second assumption left no margin for error, no allowance for the inevitable
friction of war, and was always improbable.
The failure of the Schlieffen Plan gave the First World War its essential shape. This
was maintained by the enduring power of the German army, which was, in John Terraine’s
phrase, ‘the motor of the war’. The German army was a potent instrument. It had played a
historic role in the emergence of the German state. It enjoyed enormous prestige. It was
able to recruit men of talent and dedication as officers and NCOs. As a result it was well
trained and well led. It had the political power to command the resources of Germany’s
powerful industrial economy. Germany’s position at the heart of Europe meant that it could
operate on interior lines of communication in a European war. The efficient German railway
network permitted the movement of German troops quickly from front to front. The superior
speed of the locomotive over the ship frustrated Allied attempts to use their command of
the sea to operate effectively against the periphery of the Central Powers. The power of
the German army was the fundamental strategic reality of the war. ‘We cannot hope to win
this war until we have defeated the German army,’ wrote the commander-in-chief of the
British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. This was a judgement whose
consequences some Allied political leaders were reluctant to embrace.
The German army suffered from two important strategic difficulties. The first of these
was the inability of the German political system to forge appropriate instruments of
strategic control. The second was Great Britain. German government rested on the tortured
personality of the Kaiser. It was riven by intrigue and indecision. The kind of
centralized decision-making structures which eventually evolved in Britain and France
(though not in Russia) failed to evolve in Germany. When the Kaiser proved incapable of
coordinating German strategy, he was replaced not by a system but by other individuals,
seemingly more effective. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg radiated calm and inspired
confidence. This gave him the appearance of a great man but without the substance. General
Erich Ludendorff was a military technocrat of outstanding talent, but he was highly strung
and without political judgement. In 1918 his offensive strategy brought Germany to ruin.
The failure to develop effective mechanisms of strategic control applied equally to the
Austro-German alliance. The Austrians depended on German military and economic strength,
but the Germans found it difficult to turn this into ‘leverage’. Austria was willing to
take German help but not German advice. Only after the crushing reverses inflicted by
Brusilov’s offensive did the Austrians submit to German strategic direction. By then it
was almost certainly too late.
Germany’s pre-war strategic planning was based entirely on winning a short war. British
belligerency made this unlikely. The British were a naval rather than a military power.
They could not be defeated by the German army, at least not quickly. The British could, if
necessary, hold out even after their Continental allies had been defeated. They might even
have chosen to do this. They had in the past and they would again in the not-too-distant
future. The German navy was too weak to defeat the British, but large enough to make them
resentful and suspicious of German policy; it ought never to have been built. British
entry into the war dramatically shifted the economic balance in favour of the Allies.
Britain was one of the world’s great industrial powers. Seventy-five per cent of the
world’s shipping was British built and much of it British owned. London was the world’s
greatest money and commodities market. British access to world supplies of food and credit
and to imperial resources of manpower made them a formidable enemy, despite the
‘contemptible little army’ which was all they could put into the field on the outbreak of
war. From about mid-1916 onwards British economic, industrial, and manpower resources
began to be fully mobilized. Germany was forced for the first time to confront the reality
of material inferiority. Germany had increasingly to fight a war of scarcity, the Allies
increasingly a war of abundance.
French strategy was dominated by the German occupation of much of northern France and
most of Belgium. At its closest point the German line was less than 40 miles from Paris. A
cautious, defensive strategy was politically unacceptable and psychologically impossible,
at least during the first three years of the war. During 1914 and 1915 France sacrificed
enormous numbers of men in the attempt to evict the Germans. This was followed by the
torment of Verdun, where the Germans deliberately attempted to ‘bleed France white’.
French fears of military inferiority were confirmed. If France was to prevail its allies
would have to contribute in kind. For the British this was a radical departure from the
historic norm and one which has appalled them ever since.
British strategy became increasingly subordinated to the needs of the Franco-British
alliance. The British fought the war as they had to, not as they wanted to. The British
way in warfare envisaged a largely naval war. A naval blockade would weaken Germany
economically. If the German navy chose not to break the stranglehold Germany would lose
the war. If it did choose to fight it would be annihilated. British maritime superiority
would be confirmed. Neutral opinion would be cowed. Fresh allies would be encouraged into
the fight. The blockade would be waged with greater ruthlessness. Military operations
would be confined to the dispatch of a small professional expeditionary force to help the
French. Remaining military forces would be employed on the periphery of the Central Powers
remote from the German army, where it was believed they would exercise a strategic
influence out of all proportion to their size.
The British never really fought the war they envisaged. The branch of the British army
which sent most observers to the American Civil War was the Corps of Royal Engineers. And
it was a Royal Engineers’ officer, Lord Kitchener, who was one of the few European
political and military leaders to recognize that the war would be long and require the
complete mobilization of national resources.
Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War on 5 August 1914. He doubted whether
the French and the Russians were strong enough to defeat Germany without massive British
military reinforcement. He immediately sought to raise a mass citizen army. There was an
overwhelming popular response to his call to arms. Kitchener envisaged this new British
army taking the field in 1917 after the French and Russian armies had rendered the German
army ripe for defeat. They would be ‘the last million men’. They would win the war and
decide the peace. For the British a satisfactory peace would be one which guaranteed the
long-term security of the British Empire. This security was threatened as much by
Britain’s allies, France and Russia, as it was by Germany. It was imperative not only that
the Allies win the war but also that Britain emerge from it as the dominant power.
Kitchener’s expectations were disappointed. By 1916 it was the French army which was
ripe for defeat, not the German. But the obligations of the French alliance were
inescapable. The British could not afford to acquiesce in a French defeat. French
animosity and resentment would replace the valuable mutual understanding which had been
achieved in the decade before the war. The French had a great capacity for making imperial
mischief. And so did the Russians. If they were abandoned they would have every reason for
doing so. There seemed no choice. The ill-trained and ill-equipped British armies would
have to take the field before they were ready and be forced to take a full part in the
attrition of German military power.
The casualties which this strategy of ‘offensive attrition’ involved were unprecedented
in British history. They were also unacceptable to some British political leaders. Winston
Churchill and David Lloyd George (Prime Minister from December 1916), in particular, were
opposed to the British army ‘chewing barbed wire’ on the Western Front. They looked to use
it elsewhere, against Germany’s allies in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and
the Balkans. Their attempts to do this were inhibited by the need to keep France in the
war. This could only be done in France and by fighting the German army. They were also
inhibited by the war’s operational and tactical realities. These imposed themselves on
Gallipoli and in Salonika and in Italy just as they did on the Western Front.
Attempts to implement an Allied grand strategy enjoyed some success. Allied political
and military leaders met regularly. At Chantilly in December 1915 and December 1916 they
determined to stretch the German army to its limits by simultaneous offensive action on
the western, eastern, and Italian fronts. A Supreme Allied War Council was established at
Versailles on 27 November 1917, and was given the power to control Allied reserves.
Franco-British co-operation was especially close. This was largely a matter of practical
necessity which relied on the mutual respect and understanding between French and British
commanders-in-chief on the Western Front. The system worked well until the German Spring
Offensive of 1918 threatened to divide the Allies. Only then was it replaced by a more
formal structure. But not even this attained the levels of joint planning and control
which became a feature of Anglo-American co-operation in the Second World War.
Allied grand strategy was conceptually sound. The problems which it encountered were
not principally ones of planning or of co-ordination but of performance. Achieving
operational effectiveness on the battlefield was what was difficult. This has given the
war, especially the war in the west, its enduring image of boneheaded commanders wantonly
sacrificing the lives of their men in fruitless pursuit of impossibly grandiose strategic
The battlefields of the First World War were the product of a century of economic,
social, and political change. Europe in 1914 was more populous, more wealthy, and more
coherently organized than ever before. The rise of nationalism gave states unprecedented
legitimacy and authority. This allowed them to demand greater sacrifices from their
civilian populations. Improvements in agriculture reduced the numbers needed to work on
the land and provided a surplus of males of military age. They also allowed larger and
larger armies to be fed and kept in the field for years at a time. Changes in
administrative practice brought about by the electric telegraph, the telephone, the
typewriter, and the growth of railways allowed these armies to be assembled and deployed
quickly. Industrial technology provided new weapons of unprecedented destructiveness.
Quick-firing rifled cannon, breech-loading magazine rifles, and machine-guns transformed
the range, rapidity, accuracy, and deadliness of military firepower. They also ensured
that in any future war, scientists, engineers, and mechanics would be as important as
These changes did much to make the First World War the first ‘modern war’. But it did
not begin as one. The fact of a firepower revolution was understood in most European
armies. The consequences of it were not. The experience of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5)
appeared to offer a human solution to the problems of the technological battlefield.
Victory would go to the side with the best-trained, most disciplined army, commanded by
generals of iron resolution, prepared to maintain the offensive in the face of huge
losses. As a result the opening battles of the war were closer in conception and execution
to those of the Napoleonic era than to the battles of 1916 onwards.
It is difficult to say exactly when ‘modern’ war began, but it was apparent by the end
of 1915 that pre-war assumptions were false. Well-trained, highly disciplined French,
German, and Russian soldiers of high morale were repeatedly flung into battle by
commanders of iron resolve. The results were barren of strategic achievement. The human
costs were immense. The ‘human solution’ was not enough. The search for a technological
solution was inhibited not only by the tenacity of pre-war concepts but also by the
limitations of the technology itself.
The principal instrument of education was artillery. And the mode of instruction was
experience. Shell-fire was merciless to troops in the open. The response was to get out of
the open and into the ground. Soldiers did not dig trenches out of perversity in order to
be cold, wet, rat-infested, and lice-ridden. They dug them in order to survive. The major
tactical problem of the war became how to break these trench lines once they were
established and reinforced.
For much of the war artillery lacked the ability to find enemy targets, to hit them
accurately, and to destroy them effectively. Contemporary technology failed to provide a
man-portable wireless. Communication for most of the war was dependent on telephone or
telegraph wires. These were always broken by shell-fire and difficult to protect.
Artillery and infantry commanders were rarely in voice communication and both usually
lacked ‘real time’ intelligence of battlefield events; First World War infantry commanders
could not easily call down artillery fire when confronted by an enemy obstruction. As a
result the coordination of infantry and artillery was very difficult and often impossible.
Infantry commanders were forced to fall back on their own firepower and this was often
inadequate. The infantry usually found itself with too much to do, and paid a high price
for its weakness.
Artillery was not only a major part of the problem, however. It was also a major part
of the solution. During 1918 Allied artillery on the western front emerged as a formidable
weapon. Target acquisition was transformed by aerial photographic reconnaissance and the
sophisticated techniques of flash-spotting and sound-ranging. These allowed mathematically
predicted fire, or map-shooting. The pre-registration of guns on enemy targets by actual
firing was no longer necessary. The possibility of surprise returned to the battlefield.
Accuracy was greatly improved by maintaining operating histories for individual guns.
Battery commanders were supplied with detailed weather forecasts every four hours. Each
gun could now be individually calibrated according to its own peculiarities and according
to wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. All types and calibres of guns,
including heavy siege howitzers whose steep angle of fire was especially effective in
trench warfare, became available in virtually unlimited numbers. Munitions were also
improved. Poison gas shells became available for the first time in large numbers. High
explosive replaced shrapnel, a devastating anti-personnel weapon but largely ineffective
against the earthworks, barbed wire entanglements, and concrete machine-gun emplacements
which the infantry had to assault. Instantaneous percussion fuses concentrated the
explosive effect of shells more effectively against barbed wire and reduced the cratering
of the battlefield which had often rendered the forward movement of supplies and
reinforcements difficult if not impossible. Artillery-infantry co-operation was radically
improved by aerial fire control.
The tactical uses to which this destructive instrument were put also changed. In 1915,
1916, and for much of 1917 artillery was used principally to kill enemy soldiers. It
always did so, sometimes in large numbers. But it always spared some, even in front-line
trenches. These were often enough, as during the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1
July 1916), to inflict disastrous casualties on attacking infantry and bring an entire
offensive to a halt. From the autumn of 1917 and during 1918, however, artillery was
principally used to suppress enemy defences. Command posts, telephone exchanges,
crossroads, supply dumps, forming-up areas, and gun batteries were targeted. Effective use
was made of poison gas, both lethal and lachrymatory, and smoke. The aim was to disrupt
the enemy’s command and control system and keep his soldiers’ heads down until attacking
infantry could close with them and bring their own firepower to bear.
The attacking infantry were also transformed. In 1914 the British soldier went to war
dressed like a gamekeeper in a soft cap, armed only with rifle and bayonet. In 1918 he
went into battle dressed like an industrial worker in a steel helmet, protected by a
respirator against poison gas, armed with automatic weapons and mortars, supported by
tanks and ground-attack aircraft, and preceded by a creeping artillery barrage of crushing
intensity. Firepower replaced manpower as the instrument of victory. This represented a
revolution in the conduct of war.
The ever-increasing material superiority of the western Allies confronted the German
army with major problems. Its response was organizational. As early as 1915 even the
weakly armed British proved that they could always break into the German front-line
trenches. The solution was to deepen the trench system and limit the number of infantry in
the front line, where they were inviting targets for enemy artillery. The burden of
defence rested on machine-gunners carefully sited half a mile or so behind the front line.
From the autumn of 1916 the Germans took these changes to their logical conclusion by
instituting a system of ‘elastic defence in depth’. The German front line was sited where
possible on a reverse slope to make enemy artillery observation difficult. A formal
front-line trench system was abandoned. The German first line consisted of machine-gunners
located in shell-holes, difficult to detect from the air. Their job was to disrupt an
enemy infantry assault. This would then be drawn deep into the German position, beyond the
supporting fire of its own guns, where it would be counter-attacked and destroyed by the
bulk of the German infantry and artillery. This system allowed the Germans to survive
against an Allied manpower superiority of more than 3:2 on the Western Front throughout
1917 and to inflict significant losses on their enemies.
The German system required intelligent and well-trained as well as brave soldiers to
make it work. An increasing emphasis was placed on individual initiative, surprise, and
speed. In 1918 specially trained stormtroops’, supported by a hurricane bombardment
designed to disrupt their enemies’ lines of communication and their command and control
systems, were ordered to bypass points of resistance and advance deep into the enemy’s
rear. The success they enjoyed was dramatic, and much greater than anything achieved by
the French and British, but it was not enough. Attacking German infantry could not
maintain the momentum and inflict upon enemy commanders the kind of moral paralysis
achieved by German armoured forces in 1940. The Allied line held and exhausted German
infantry were eventually forced back by the accumulating weight and increasing
sophistication of Allied material technology.
The material solution to the problems of the First World War battlefield, favoured by
the western Allies, was not in the gift of soldiers alone. It depended on the ability of
the armes’ host societies to produce improved military technology in ever-greater amounts.
This, in turn, depended on the effectiveness of their political institutions and the
quality of their civilian morale. It was a contest at which the liberal democracies of
France and Great Britain (and eventually the United States of America) proved more adept
than the authoritarian regimes of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia.
The ‘modern war’ fought from 1916 onwards resolved itself simply into a demand for
more: more men, more weapons, more ammunition, more money, more skills, more morale, more
food. Some of the demands were contradictory. More men meant more men for the armies and
more men for the factories. Balancing the competing demands was never easy. ‘Manpower’ (a
word first coined in 1915) became central to the war effort of all states. The Allies were
in a much stronger position than Germany. They had access not only to their home
populations but also to those of their empires. 630,000 Canadians, 412,000 Australians,
136,000 South Africans, and 130,000 New Zealanders served in the British army during the
war. Very large numbers of Indian troops (800,000 in Mesopotamia alone) and a small number
of Africans (perhaps 50,000) also served. (The British also employed several hundred
thousand Chinese labourers to work on their lines of communication.) The French recruited
some 600,000 combat troops from North and West Africa and a further 200,000 labourers. And
of course there were the Americans. American troops arrived in France at the rate of
150,000 a month in 1918. Truly the new world had come in to redress the balance of the
The British and French were particularly successful in mobilizing their economies. In
Britain this had much to do with the work of David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions
(May 1915-July 1916). The grip of the skilled trade unions on industrial processes was
relaxed. Ancient lines of demarcation were blurred. Women replaced men in the factories.
Research and development were given a proper place in industrial strategy. Prodigies of
production were achieved. On 10 March 1915, at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the British
Expeditionary Force struggled to accumulate enough shells for half an hour’s bombardment.
In the autumn of 1918 its 18-pounder field guns were firing a minimum of 100,000 rounds a
The French performance was, in many ways, even more impressive, given that so much of
their industrial capacity was in German hands. Not only did the French economy supply the
French army with increasing amounts of old and new weaponry, but it also supplied most of
the American Expeditionary Force’s artillery and aeroplanes. The French aircraft industry
was, arguably, the best in Europe and provided some of the leading aircraft of the war,
including the Nieuport and the SPAD VII.
Morale was also a key factor. All sides tried to explain and justify the war and used
increasingly refined techniques of propaganda to maintain commitment to the cause. Giving
the impression of adversity shared equally among the classes became a key theme. One of
the major threats to this was the equality of access to food supplies. In Germany this
proved increasingly difficult to maintain. Morale deteriorated and industrial efficiency
suffered as a result. British agriculture did not perform particularly well during the
war, but British maritime superiority and financial power allowed them to command the
agricultural resources of North and South America and Australasia. Food was one of the
Allies principal war-winning weapons. The degree of active resistance to the war was
low in most countries. But war-weariness set in everywhere by 1917. There were many
strikes and much industrial unrest. In Russia this was severe enough to produce a
revolution and then a Bolshevik coup d�tat which took Russia out of the war
The social consequences of this mass mobilization were less spectacular than is
sometimes claimed. There were advances for the organized working class, especially its
trade unions, especially in Britain, and arguably for women, but the working class of
Europe paid a high price on the battlefield for social advances at home. And in the
defeated states there was very little social advance anyway.
The First World War redrew the map of Europe and the Middle East. Four great empires,
the Romanov, the Hohenzollern, the Habsburg, and the Ottoman, were defeated and collapsed.
They were replaced by a number of weak and sometimes avaricious successor states. Russia
underwent a bloody civil war before the establishment of a Communist Soviet Union which
put it beyond the pale of European diplomacy for a generation. Germany became a republic
branded at its birth with the stigma of defeat, increasingly weakened by the burden of
Allied reparations and by inflation. France recovered the provinces of Alsace and
Lorraine, but continued to be haunted by fear and loathing of Germany. Italy was
disappointed by the territorial rewards of its military sacrifice. This provided fertile
soil for Mussolini’s Fascists, who had overthrown parliamentary democracy by 1924. The
British maintained the integrity and independence of Belgium. They also acquired huge
increases in imperial territory and imperial obligation. But they did not achieve the
security for the Empire which they sought. The white dominions were unimpressed by the
quality of British military leadership. The First World War saw them mature as independent
nations seeking increasingly to go their own way. The stirrings of revolt in India were
apparent as soon as the war ended. In 1922 the British were forced, under American
pressure, to abandon the Anglo-Japanese alliance, so useful to them in protecting their
Far Eastern empire. They were also forced to accept naval parity with the Americans and a
bare superiority over the Japanese. ‘This is not a peace,’ Marshal Foch declared in 1919,
‘but an armistice for twenty-five years.’
The cost of all this in human terms was 8.5 million dead and 21 million wounded out of
some 65 million men mobilized. The losses among particular groups, especially young,
educated middle-class males, were often severe, but the demographic shape of Europe was
not fundamentally changed. The real impact was moral. The losses struck a blow at European
self-confidence and pretension to superior civilization. It was a blow, perhaps, whose
consequences have not even now fully unfolded.
From The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern War. Ed. Charles Townshend.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Copyright � 1997 by Oxford University Press.
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