The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP
The one thing that a General thinks about all the time is sparing his men’s lives – never does a General attack unless he thinks by so doing he will in the end save [lives]; that is what our job is, we are very careful on the question of loss of life and the human suffering which must occur. Actually speaking if an attack is well thought out, even if you lose life you will probably save life in the end, because you keep the other people apprehensive and they will not be able to concentrate on you and attack you with overwhelming force.1
The comments made by Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston at the Dardanelles Commission in February 1917 came from a soldier who has since earned a reputation as one of the most brutal, callous and incompetent commanders of the Great War. His case is one that powerfully illustrates the manner in which that destructive conflict has become embedded in the popular memory. There is no doubt that for some contemporaries, he was a ‘butcher’, a jovial ‘mountebank’, who was perhaps even ‘not quite sane’.2 However, this colourful testimony has often been uncritically absorbed into the historical record, so that even the latest revisionist treatments that seek to provide a more nuanced account of the tactical transformation of ← 1 | 2 → the British Army present him as a bullying eccentric; a convenient counterpoint to the ‘learning curve’ displayed by more successful commanders.3
The intention of...
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