Tom Donovan Editions
Liddell Hart's Western Front
Impressions of the Battle of the Somme
War Letters, Diary and Occasional Notes Written On Active Service in France and Flanders
1915 - 1916
Sir Basil Liddell Hart
“The Captain who teaches Generals”
Edited by Brian Bond
In 1914, eighteen year old Basil Hart (the Liddell was added later), like many young men of his age and social class, quickly secured a temporary commission in the New Army. He opted for the infantry, serving with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Hart reached France in September 1915 where he was attached to an Entrenching Battalion before joining the 6th (Service) Battalion of his regiment near Ypres. His first experience of the front line was to last for just a week during which he was somewhat shaken up by the falling-in of a dugout. He was invalided to England.
Returning to the front in time for the Battle of the Somme, Basil Hart’s second tour overseas would last six weeks, but again, his actual experience of front line conditions could be counted in days. He was invalided again: to a degree shocked, to a degree suffering from gas poisoning. Hart remained curiously reticent throughout his life about the events of 16th July 1916 in Mametz Wood as far as they affected him personally.
Brief as Basil Hart’s experiences had been, he had no doubt that he was witness to world-shaking events and, in the weeks following his evacuation from the Somme, he wrote his first book: Impressions of the Battle of the Somme by A Company Commander who saw three-and-a half weeks of it. He approached the War Office for permission to publish but, somewhat surprisingly in view of its positive, even adulatory, tone, it was turned down. Brian Bond surmises that this was no doubt a relief in later years, when critics would have had much to say about his youthful view of British generals and generalship and their ‘super-German’ efficiency – opinions with which Liddell Hart the historian would have been profoundly uncomfortable.
Liddell Hart’s Impressions has not previously been published and is offered here complete and unabridged, with an introduction by Professor Brian Bond and occasional footnotes and commentary by Professor Bond and the publisher.
Following the Impressions we reproduce Liddell Hart’s letters written home to his parents from the Western Front in 1915 and 1916, together with extracts from intermittent diaries. Liddell Hart occasionally decided to record events in diary form but did not keep a regular diary during this period.
Impressions and the war letters together form the fullest record of Liddell Hart’s Western Front experience hitherto available. They provide an insight into the great military historian’s formative years and demonstrate an early prediliction for the self-promotion which was to emerge strongly in succeeding years. Both parts of the book stand as a record of the great events in which their author participated and contribute to our understanding of how it felt to be part of the greatest volunteer army fielded by the British, and the atmosphere of optimism and trust in the professionalism of the British Army that then prevailed.