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6 - Experiencing Crisis

Battle and Sensemaking c. July 1917–June 1918

from Part III - Crisis and Morale

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2024

Alex Mayhew
Affiliation:
London School of Economics and Political Science
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Summary

The preceding chapters reveal that a looming sense of crisis emerged in the BEF during and after the Battle of Passchendaele. Later, these weary men were faced with a major acute crisis – the spring offensives. Infantrymen were practically and psychologically ill-equipped to overcome this challenge. Using the concept of sensemaking, this chapter uses the records of a mix of regular, territorial, and New Army battalions drawn from six regiments to trace why men’s perceptions of battle may have changed and transformed. It charts their experiences during the optimistic days of early 1917, on the saturated battlefields around Ypres, amidst the chaos of Cambrai, in the tiring and demoralising winter of 1917–1918, and whilst facing the German onslaught after 21 March 1918. In early 1917, battle remained the imagined pathway to victorious peace. Yet, by the summer, the weather and Third Ypres left men’s hope of peace – and faith in battle – in tatters. The slow progress, casualties, and trying conditions convinced many that the war had become irreversibly static. These fears were confirmed as the BEF shifted to a defensive strategy. At the same time, esprit de corps was shaken by the BEF’s reorganisation in the new year. The work required to prepare the lines for defence was at the cost of effective training and the BEF retreated in the face of the German attacks. However, whilst the military outcome was sometimes in question, the spring offensives signalled a change in the character of the war in Belgium and France. Heavy casualties were inflicted upon the enemy, the army learnt on the job, and it appeared the conflict had entered a new phase. Somewhat counterintuitively, retreat and withdrawal rekindled soldiers’ faith in battle as the pathway to peace.

Type
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Making Sense of the Great War
Crisis, Englishness, and Morale on the Western Front
, pp. 232 - 281
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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  • Experiencing Crisis
  • Alex Mayhew, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Book: Making Sense of the Great War
  • Online publication: 11 April 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009168762.013
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  • Experiencing Crisis
  • Alex Mayhew, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Book: Making Sense of the Great War
  • Online publication: 11 April 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009168762.013
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Experiencing Crisis
  • Alex Mayhew, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Book: Making Sense of the Great War
  • Online publication: 11 April 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009168762.013
Available formats
×