Writing the Great War: Sir James Edmonds and the Official Histories 1915-1948

Writing the Great War: Sir James Edmonds and the Official Histories 1915-1948

Writing the Great War: Sir James Edmonds and the Official Histories 1915-1948

Writing the Great War: Sir James Edmonds and the Official Histories 1915-1948

Synopsis

"Writing the Great War discusses the motivations of the writers of this work, asking who was responsible for it, did it aim to inform or did it have darker political motivatins? Did the authors, who alone had access to records that were to remain classifie"

Excerpt

The 19 volumes of the Official History of British military operations edited by Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds and published between 1922 and 1948-the last of which appeared when its author and the series editor had reached the age of 87-are simultaneously a monument to sustained scholarship and a quarry that is still mined for the rich ores it contains. Such is their commanding presence that they are simply works that no serious historian of the First World War can ignore.

However, despite their many historical merits, they have not stood above the battles that have been, and continue to be, waged about that most affecting of wars. in his Memoirs, Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart accused Edmonds-quite wrongly, as will become apparent to the reader of the pages which follow-of growing more inclined to whitewash the errors of the High Command as he grew older, and it has even been claimed that acquaintance with Edmonds and the other official historians did much to sour Liddell Hart's view of the British Army. Historians have not been much kinder to Edmonds over the years. He has been accused of writing 'technical history' in 'featureless prose'-charges that are repeatedly rebutted in what follows-and of managing to write an account of a great tragedy without any display of emotion whatsoever. a kindred charge is that he fails as an official historian because he did not educate the public in the 'realities of war'. If that is indeed one of the tasks of the official historian, which may be questioned, then it can certainly be said that few authors, if any, have ever achieved it. Perhaps the most extreme and unfair attack upon Edmonds and his work has been to allege that he wrote to a pre-determined story line, that his consultations of many senior and not so senior officers in an attempt to improve the accuracy and authenticity of his narrative were a sham, and that the resulting account of the Western Front is fraudulent.

Andrew Green's careful and authoritative account of how the Official Histories were produced under Edmonds's direction, and his scrupulous weighing of the accuracy of some of the key volumes, gives the lie to all these charges. From the account of the bureaucracy that necessarily surrounded the process, we learn of the constraints under which he and his

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