Britain and France in two world wars : truth, myth and by Robert Tombs, Emile Chabal

By Robert Tombs, Emile Chabal

France and Britain, imperative allies in international wars, bear in mind and overlook their shared historical past in contrasting methods. The booklet will research key episodes within the courting among the 2 international locations, together with the outbreak of struggle in 1914, the battles of the Somme and Verdun, the autumn of France in 1940, Dunkirk, and British involvement within the French Resistance and the 1944 Liberation. The participants speak about how the 2 nations are likely to put out of your mind what they owe to one another, and feature a distorted view of heritage which nonetheless shades and prejudices their courting this present day, regardless of executive efforts to construct a detailed political and army partnership.

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While it does imply an Anglocentric perspective, the ‘Hundred Days’ remains a useful term. Its use does not (in least in my case) imply an acceptance of the view that ‘the French army was too exhausted to do any real fighting in the last offensives’. In fact, there is no reason why this evocative definition should not be extended to encompass Second Marne. There are many reasons why the British should have seen Amiens rather than Second Marne as the crucial battle, some being better than others.

Grey replied that ‘this was what would happen under the existing conditions’. 40 In this strange display of Chinese whispers Grey was insisting that the existing de facto case would be no different from the written de jure case, while Cambon was maintaining the contrary. That difference of interpretation would be at the heart of the Grey-Cambon letters and thus of the mutual incomprehension that was so much in evidence in August 1914. Grey, knowing that he had to do something to placate the French, finally gave in and accepted the formula whereby the two states should consult in the event of a threat to peace.

It is fair to say that while his views on the respective competence of the French and British armies have raised some eyebrows, it has also initiated a very healthy and productive debate. In his chapter, Philpott argues that ‘a lack of inquisitiveness on the part of British scholars’ has led to the persistence of inaccurate views of the French army in the Great War. There is certainly some substance to this, but other factors also need to be taken into account. In an ideal world, transnational, comparative history would be the norm, but in the real one, the British army of 1914–18 is a big enough topic 24 Introduction easily to absorb a scholar’s efforts.

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