Saturday 12 September 2020

BOOK REVIEW: "Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914 - 1918" by Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks, published by Pen & Sword Military, an imprint of Pen & Sword, Barnsley, UK, 2014

“It is our most earnest hope that when the poppy petals fall at the Service of Remembrance in the Albert Hall each November, people will realise that some of them fall for generals.” (p. xii)

This book firmly knocks on the head the often-quoted phrase referring to the British troops of the First World War as “Lions led by Donkeys” and tells us about the many ‘top brass’ who lost their lives during the conflict, “putting the record straight and doing justice to the memory of the senior officers who have been unable to fight back for so many years.”   

I was particularly interested in reading this book because my Grandfather was an “Old Contemptible” with the Royal Field Artillery.  Having joined the British Army as a Boy Soldier when he was 16, by August 1914 Grandfather was a Sergeant and was married with two children.  Due to the very heavy losses among the Officer ranks of the British Army in the early days of the war, Grandfather was actually commissioned as an Officer in November 1914 - that would never have happened to a working-class man during peacetime.

Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks have drawn on a wide variety of resources to put together this excellent book.   You will find out that, contrary to popular modern belief (it seems the myth about officers may have come from comments made by David Lloyd George in his “War Memoirs” – Chapter 2), many senior officers were killed in the line of duty during the course of the war.  I must admit I was surprised to find out that in 1915, British Army Officers were actually ordered to remain behind the lines as much as possible.  "...Haig had decreed in 1915, as GOC 1st Army, "That no staff officer was to go nearer to the trenches than a certain line" This was because of the danger involved for difficult-ro-replace Staff officers". (page 6).  Nevertheless, many were killed.  You will also discover just how 'safe' the chateaux used as headquarters really were and how many Generals were awarded the Victoria Cross (V.C.).

I found an enormous amount of extremely interesting material in this book and I don’t want to give too much away as I really want you to read it.  Following two chapters setting the scene are two further chapters listing the Generals who were killed, wounded, gasses and/or taken Prisoner of War.  Appendix 1 lists the cemeteries where the Generals are buried;  a comprehensive list of abbreviations is in Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 has a comprehensive Bibliography.  With copious photographs and a painting by WW1 artist Gilbert Holiday, who served with the Royal Field Artillery Western Front as a Forward Observation Officer and was later appointed Reconnaissance Officer on the front cover, this is another must read for anyone with an interest in the history of the First World War.

For further information or to order a copy of the book, please see the Pen & Sword website

NOTE:  Eddie Bon tells me that the artist who painted the painting featured on the cover of the book  was Gilbert Holiday, about whom you can find out more on Lesser Known Artists of the First World War.