Wednesday, 1 May 2013
One, Two-Three, One
It has been a good long while since I have posted to this column, and there are a few reasons for this being so. One is that I became discouraged and disillusioned in attempts to make “If Ye Break Faith” something it either was never intended to be or ever could be. My short tenure with a travel firm last year demanded a lot of my time with work I wasn’t, quite honestly, very well prepared for. On top of these things was a pressing concern with my health that needed looked after. The latter two items have each in turn been dealt with- my former employer and I agreeing to part ways; and a course of treatment to put my health on the right track. Of the first item, I’m planning to set that right, starting right now.
For the entre-nous this post’s title may not make much sense, but those of you with a military background in the British Commonwealth should understand it immediately. It is a type of phrase candidates learning foot drill are required to call out in unison to properly gauge the timing of movements. Typically, troops move on the “ones” and pause on the “two-threes.” As an example, an “about turn”-a 180 degree change in direction faced- consists of two parts movement divided by on standard pause. Therefore, the called timing would be “one, two-three, one.”
In the initial phases of training, these counts are vocalised until the timing is understood by all and the movement is being executed according to standard. At this point, candidates are instructed to count the timings in their heads. If it works correctly, the new troops will be able to march and drill with proficiency, synchronicity, and-more importantly to tradition- silently. However, as often happens, lessons might not absorb on the first go ‘round and any slip from proper standard will be met with the instructor ordering the course remedially to call the timings out until standard be met again.
The analogy I’m reaching for here is that I’ve lost sight of what should be my standard, so I am going back to basics. If Ye Break Faith began as a simple project with a clear goal: To collect in one location short biographies of every member of the CEF killed on Active Service during the First World War. That goal has never changed, but has been sidelined bit by bit in an attempt to fashion some type of business from the fabric of what I had begun to create in order to fund the research and writing of these biographies. The problem is, as my short venture in the travel business last year proved, I am not a commercially minded man. I was bashing away at trying to force a square peg through a round hole, losing myself and the intent along the way.
Having had some time away from this-which my health concerns required- allowed me to reflect on what I needed to do. First is to clean house and rid this space of content which confuses the overall purpose. In looking into doing this during January of this year, I realised that the essays I had been writing and collecting here would fit rather nicely (if reorganised somewhat, tweaked and correctly referenced) as a book. To that end, the print title “If Ye Break Faith” is very nearly complete. I still have the long road to haul on finding a publisher to handle it, but it`s hoped that publication will enable me to push the biography aspect of the project ahead as it should be. This means that some of the content of this site will be eliminated in efforts to not confuse first posts with the finished item as some of the differences are glaring. It is also hoped that my first full-length publication will help me to produce more works on the remembrance of WWI. The top of that list would be the proposed travelogue/walk with the past “Iron Spirits.”
Not having made full use of this space for a long time and having to reset a bit excites me as despite my inactivity, my network, particularly with Twitter (@ifyebreakfaith) has grown a great deal. I’m enthusiastic to welcome new readers and hope still to bring inciting and insightful topics for thought and discussion. This will be done concurrently as I grapple with exactly how and in what form the 60 00 0+ biographies will be written and collected; and a shortly to be announced side project to work on a freelance basis on military genealogy. All I can say for the bios is that they will be collected online and publicly contributed to. The genealogical work will be announced in full in an upcoming post.
This whole journey has been a learning process for me, and I’m certainly not discouraged by having made mistakes along the way which has necessitated a remedial action. I cannot be because I think of this:
The decimation of the British Expeditionary Force in the autumn of 1914 coupled with the necessity of raising huge forces in Britain and throughout the Empire meant that certain standards of training could not be met when balanced against the requirement of quick deployment to prevent catastrophe on the Western Front.
For the greater part of the hundred years preceding the BEF’s landing on the continent, Britain had been mainly engaged in limited conflicts within her own empire that could best be described by the euphemism “police action.” Not discounting the Crimean or South African Wars, Britain’s reputation of a highly professional armed force had not really been put to test. The BEF, the eve of war, was about to clash with a large host of whom some of the older officers would have had combat experience on the same ground they intended to cross.
War itself had changed. While Britain was out “minding the shop” of Empire, the continental powers had formulated plans and incorporated tactics and technology for the very sort of war that was about to happen. The only marked advantage that Britain had to hand was that the core of the BEF was full-time career soldiers meeting large bodies of recently activated reservists on the German side. Unfortunately, it was an advantage that could only be used once. The clash at Mons shattered the Regular Army and put in motion the need to push the Territorials and the New Armies to the front with all due haste.
These troops were, as events played out, adequate to operate in the defensive and in limited offensive works; usually in the need for localised counter attacks while the Front settled into its shape over 1915. Major offensives such as those designed to win the war were another story. The New Armies’ trial by fire at the Somme in 1916 showed glaring errors and oversights in organisation and training from the top down. A great amount of time, effort and energy was spent in shaking things out and training the civilians turned soldiers to a level that the situation beforehand had precluded. Lessons were learned absorbed and incorporated which would put the Allies in a superior position to claim victory in 1918.
The idea was, in one respect, lessons learned in lives lost. Tactical doctrine having improved as time wore on indicates that the desire to conclude the war favourably was not predicated, as many would believe, on the wastage of human effort. That a great amount of men died cannot be debated, but whether that number was greater or lesser than necessary is an argument without resolution.
The perseverance and dedication, even to the level of spending in lives cannot help but be wondered at, if not admired. So, if I have to re-evaluate and adjust a broken notion, I can only hope to have the courage to do so.
To all of you who have expressed concerns over my health, I thank you very much for your thoughts and well wishes. I’m pleased to say that my condition is in remission. However, have been ill for quite some time and as a result I’m undertaking a short course for educational and employment rehabilitation. It is my hope that I will be able to keep close contact with If Ye Break Faith’s social network during this time but this, and updates to the blog may not be as frequent as I would wish them to be. I appreciate all of your patience as I’ve worked through this difficult time and thank you all for sticking by and believing in what I’m doing.