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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:13    Onderwerp: Terug voor Kerstmis’ is een mythe Reageer met quote

Terug voor Kerstmis’ is een mythe
Het verhaal dat Britse soldaten aan het begin van de Eerste Wereldoorlog dachten dat zij voor Kerstmis 1914 als overwinnaars zouden terugkeren, is een fabel. Dat blijkt uit onderzoek van Stuart Hallifax, die hierover publiceert in het tijdschrift First World War Studies.

8 februari 2011 | bron: BBC History Magazine

Nooit heeft de Britse regering of de legerleiding de soldaten voorgespiegeld dat zij voor Kerstmis 1914 weer terug bij vrouw en kinderen zouden zijn. Dan kon ook niet, want de meeste manschappen zouden pas in 1915 worden ingezet. De Britse legerbevelhebber Lord Kitchener riep mannen op zich voor drie jaar vast te leggen.

Volgens Hallifax was er wel een minderheid van soldaten die hoopten dat de oorlog voor de kerstdagen zou zijn afgelopen, wanneer de grote Europese mogendheden op het laatste moment hun geschillen bijlegden. Die hoop had eerder echter met redeloos optimisme te maken dan met realistische verwachtingen.

Sommige media maakten zich zelfs zorgen over dit optimisme, omdat daardoor wellicht minder mannen dienst zouden nemen in het leger. De krant The Scotsman schreef in oktober 1914: ‘Degenen die de zienswijze aanhangen dat de huidige oorlog tegen Kerstmis over zal zijn, vormen nu een onbeduidende minderheid.’

http://www.historischnieuwsblad.nl/00/hn/nl/156/nieuws/15519/%E2%80%98Terug_voor_Kerstmis%E2%80%99_is_een_mythe.html
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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:22    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

En het oorspronkelijke artikel 'iets' uitgebreider dan de melding in HN:


'Over by Christmas': British popular opinion and the short war in 1914

Author: Stuart Hallifaxa
Affiliation: a The Queen's College, Oxford, UK

Abstract


That the British public thought that the First World War would be 'over by Christmas' in 1914 is such a common feature of war fiction, memoirs and histories that it has scarcely been questioned, let alone seriously examined. The phrase has become shorthand for naivety among a generation of young men who are supposed to have rushed to join the army rather than missing all the 'fun', the politicians and generals who sent them to the front and the journalists who cheered them on. This article investigates how common it really was and attempts to place it in the wide context of public reactions to the war, using newspapers, letters and diaries to uncover the feelings of the time rather than post-hoc reflections. As with former givens of 1914, such as 'war enthusiasm', what emerges is a more complex picture than simple nave faith in the imminent success of British and Allied arms. Treating predictions of peace as part of a coping strategy for soldiers and civilians at war, we should not be surprised to find predictions of peace by various specific dates, and particularly by Christmas, throughout the Great War and beyond. This article questions the ubiquity of the idea of the war ending before Christmas in 1914 and the singularity of that year for optimistic predictions.
Keywords: Soldiers; civilians; expectations; predictions; morale; Christmas; Kitchener

Introduction


It will all be over by Christmas: this 'happy phrase of August 1914' 1 has endured for nearly a century as a major characteristic of popular responses to the outbreak of the First World War across Europe, often extended to a belief that the troops would be home by Christmas. 2 In Britain, the phrase has come to encapsulate the country's lack of preparation for the war that started in 1914 and early illusions of a brief, glorious war created by politicians, newspapers and generals, driving men to join up quickly rather than miss the 'fun'. 3 So evocative and useful is the phrase that it has lent itself to chapter titles in histories, biographies and novels and the title of an exhibition. 4 While other former givens about Britain in 1914, such as 'war enthusiasm' and the power of recruiting posters, have been questioned and revised the reality of whether the war was expected to be over by Christmas has not been properly investigated. 5 The aim of this paper is to address the idea that the war would be over by Christmas, looking into its use and popularity as a prediction and as a rhetorical device in 1914 and afterwards, as well as the factors predictions about the length of the Great War.

'Over by Christmas' in 1914


Civilians



Given the frequency of its appearance in memoirs and oral histories, the idea of the war ending by Christmas 1914 is remarkable for its scarcity among contemporary accounts, whether public or private (Gregory 2003, 85). There are recorded instances of the prediction among civilians and soldiers, but nowhere near the ubiquity subsequently suggested by historians and novelists. Although using diaries and letters can give a middle- and upper-class bias, in combination with people's actions and observations about public opinion, they can give us some impression of ordinary people's feelings as to the war's duration.

For instance, after Lord Kitchener launched his call for men to enlist for 'three years or the duration', Georgina Lee, a solicitor's wife in London, recorded her response: 'Our illusions as to the short duration of the war are rapidly vanishing. Today we are being prepared for the probability of its lasting two years, perhaps more' (Roydon 2006, 13, 23). This comment on 15 August suggests that Kitchener's appeal was understood as representing his prediction of a long war and shook people out of ideas they may have entertained that the war would be over soon. The vast amount of money donated for distress relief suggests that a disruptive and destructive war was anticipated, and that it was not expected to be very short.

The stated opinions of working- and lower-middle-class individuals are less common. Intriguingly, in the eight volumes of his 'Echoes of the Great War' diary covering 1914, Andrew Clark (an avid recorder of rumours, information and opinions) mentions only one prediction of the war ending before Christmas: that of an artillery officer home on sick leave rather than a civilian. 6 Where local sources in France and Germany do appear to show a belief in a brief and victorious war (Flood 1990, 32; Verhey 2000, 105; Ziemann 2007, 23), this absence in Clark's diary is illuminating, especially given his later recording of frequent speculation about the war's duration. At the start of 1915, polemicist and businessmen F.S. Oliver wrote (1936, 85-6) that public opinion on the war had so far varied

between 3 points of view: Kitchener's original prophesy of three or four years; the general businessman's view, [peace by] March 1916; [and that of] the newspaper (derived from the General Staff) optimist, 3 or 4 months. Just now it has made up its mind to the first of these.

This suggests a range of opinions in 1914, and a sceptic's tentative thoughts on who was responsible for them. In December, the Irish Times's London correspondent had blamed belief in a short war on young officers back from the front, who had created a similar belief among businessmen. 7 There was a variety of opinions as to the duration of the war in 1914 rather than any sort of consensus, let alone around a short war; examples of the stated opinion by civilians that the war would be end by Christmas are very rare and more often stated as former opinions or those of others.
It is important to understand the chronology of apparent public belief in the idea, and without public opinion surveys we must rely on people's actions for an insight into their feelings and expectations to find this. With Britain's all-volunteer army, the matter of enlistment is an important, if blunt, tool in assessing military-aged men's feelings about the war. The impression of men joining up 'in a holiday spirit, and with an entirely unfounded conviction that the war would end by Christmas' (Winter 1985, 29) raises an obvious conundrum. As G.R. Searle states: 'mysteriously, if the war was indeed to be 'all over by Christmas', as almost everyone bar Kitchener predicted, there would hardly be a need for a mass army which could not take the field until well into 1915, at the very earliest' (2004, 664).
In fact, comments about the war being over by Christmas tend to be found at the very start of the war and, more commonly, from October onwards; whereas the 'recruiting boom' occurred in the intervening months, exactly at the point when the severity of the threat to Britain and the possibility of defeat were exposed (Gregory 2003; Simkins 1988, ch. 2; see also Silbey 2005). This came after Georgina Lee's comments about Kitchener's appeal and short war illusions; news of the retreat with heavy losses of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Mons in the last week of August reinforced the idea that the war would not be won quickly.

Many men did enlist in August, and a small number of them were sent to France during 1914, notably in some Territorial Force units; 8 however, almost three times as many joined in the week from 30 August to 5 September than the previous seven days (Simkins 1988, 65). The vast majority of men who joined up in August and September stood very little chance of going overseas until 1915 or later. Kitchener's published appeals stressed the fact that men would have to be trained before going to the front, a message that recruiters also stressed: 'Lord Kitchener will not have any “half-baked” soldiers in his army, and the baking will take more like 6 months than one. However much you may wish that trip to France, you will not be sent there before you are a soldier “made”'. 9 Although not everyone thought the war would be long in September, 10 it would not have made sense for so many men to have joined up or for the government to have made the effort to train them if either had genuinely thought that the war would end before Christmas (Wilson 1986, 71). Moreover, if the war had ended by then, it might well have ended in defeat for Britain - the very thing new recruits sought to avoid.

In October, former Viceroy of India Lord Curzon made a widely-reported speech in which he told the audience that he 'was perfectly shocked when he read in the papers of people talking about the war being over by Christmas […]. In his judgement more than one Christmas would pass before our soldiers returned'. A month later, the Daily Mirror attacked the 'over by Christmas' idea as a 'simply fatuous' reason given by men not wishing to enlist, and also predicted one or more wartime Christmases. 11 This was a later phase in recruitment when the boom period became an increasingly distant memory and there was a growing impression that men were no longer wanted for the army, in part provoked by increased medical requirements (see Silbey 2005, 26). This is the context in which Curzon and others revived the phrase, as a way to attack 'shirkers' who had not joined up, it coincided with a national campaign begun in October attempting to recreate and sustain the 'enthusiasm' of the recruiting boom with posters and large recruiting meetings (Hiley 1997, 41).

Rather than spurring the recruiting boom in late August and September 1914, when it was virtually absent from public and private comment, belief that the war was going to be over by Christmas was a negative characteristic attributed from October to those who had not enlisted. It arose again in support of conscription, the idea of a short war supposedly having prevented the effective raising of a mass army, an argument that grew in strength through 1915 and the remainder of the war (see Radclyffe 1914, 338). Far from being a widely-held belief, The Scotsman commented in October 1914 that those 'who still adhere to the view that the present war will be over by Christmas are now an insignificant minority'. 12 This impression is reinforced by the success of the national charitable campaign launched by Princess Mary to send a Christmas gift box containing either tobacco or chocolates to all men serving at the front. The campaign was launched on 14 October and the response was so great that the scheme was widened to those at home on furlough, sick or wounded and to the nursing services. 13 The contributors to this scheme from October onwards, and later to local gift funds, clearly did not expect the potential recipients to be home by Christmas.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:22    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Soldiers


Expectations of the war ending before Christmas appear more often in soldiers' contemporary accounts than those of civilians. The prediction was made from the start of the war, 14 but was often dependent on circumstances, most notably their experience of front-line service. Private Bryan Dewes wrote in his diary in late November: 'It is extraordinary how all the Tommies seem to have a fixed idea in their heads that they will be home before Xmas. How I wish it was true. Personally I give it till next May. But that is a mere guess based on what news we hear'. 15 Soldiers' letters in local newspapers and observations by officers often comment upon the same idea about the imminence of peace from late autumn. 16 For others, the end seemed further away than ever: men wrote home in November and December that although they had hoped to be home for Christmas, this was now clearly not going to happen; others noted this feeling as early as September. 17 The prediction, then, lived on beyond the establishment of parallel trench-lines across France and Flanders, which is often seen as ending people's illusions of a return home for Christmas, but it was not a universal impression.

To understand this variety of opinions, it is useful to consider predictions of an early end to the war in 1914 as a part of a mental coping strategy among soldiers faced with the horrors of modern war (Watson 2008, 100). It is worth noting that Dewes disagreed with the other soldiers about the prospects of being home for Christmas; perhaps this was related to his experience as a non-combatant soldier, while others at the base where he was serving had seen action at the front and did not want to see any more. 18 Men who had already seen action certainly expressed their desire to see an end to the war sooner rather than later, whereas those in training or behind the lines did not feel such urgency. Wounded soldiers told visitors in late 1914 that they did not want to return to the front, while an officer at the front wrote that everyone he met wanted the war to end. 19 Again, this change was not universal 20 - but the general trend is exemplified by letters of Henry Williamson, a pre-war Territorial private: having predicted at least a year of war in August, he repeated in September that the 'war looks as if it will be a long one'; after his first spell of service in the muddy, dangerous front line trenches, however, he wrote home that 'We all think the war will end soon, thank God when it does' (Williamson 1998, 12, 22, 34). Similar feelings have been noted in the German Army of 1914 where, after a soldier's first experience of battle, the 'expectation of a quick victory was replaced by a strong desire for peace' (Ziemann and Latzel 2000, 261). Among British soldiers fighting an initially defensive war, this could see a shift from predicting a long slog to the end being hoped for in weeks or months.

One notable feature of the 'over by Christmas' idea among British soldiers was the fear among some that the war would end soon, notably among those who had no prospect of reaching the front by Christmas. This appears to have been a counterpoint to the active serviceman's desire for a quick peace, and was particularly noted by 1914 volunteers: Robert Graves and Harold Macmillan wrote later of their fear of an early end to the war while they were still in training, a fear echoed in some soldiers' letters at the time as men hoped to 'get a look-in at some time' before peace came (Crouch 1917, 30; see also Graves 1960, 60; Macmillan 1966, 61; Grieves 2004, 102). These comments have helped to create the idea that the short war was why they had enlisted, which, as we have seen, is very unlikely. Again, this desire for the war to last until one could play a part was not universal; and others hoped that 'this terrible war will be over before we are wanted'. 21 Once men had had their 'look-in' and encountered the scale and horror of war, their fear of an early peace disappeared, to be replaced by a hope for an imminent peace: 'the sooner the end comes the better for all concerned'. 22 For some, it was accompanied by a growing awareness that peace was unlikely to come soon. 23 Both the trainee's fear of not seeing action and the veteran's desire to see no more could produce statements suggesting optimistic impressions of the imminence of victory and peace, but from very different views of the war.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:23    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Press and leaders


The accusation that newspapers and national leaders (particularly in the military) propagated the idea of a war lasting weeks or months rather than years is widespread and deep-seated; and it existed at the time, as F.S. Oliver's comments show. Where references to the war's projected duration appeared in the national press, however, they were reports of the official government line that the war could last up to three years or occasional reports of existing rumours about the war's duration. National and local newspapers reproduced soldiers' letters containing predictions for the war's end, but reporting of early predictions that the war would end before Christmas largely related to the failure of German plans to win the war quickly rather than any British preconceptions of an early victory. 24 The press functioned as the primary distributor of the government's appeal for men to join the army, and although official Press Bureau statements were not all entirely clear (one stated that men would be discharged after the war, 'whether this lasts three weeks or three years'; see Roydon 2006, 15), the message was there that the government anticipated a war lasting up to three years.

The debate over whether the European powers' civilian and military leaderships expected a short war or not is a hotly contested one (see Strachan 2001, 1005-14). One British staff officer later recalled that both junior and senior officers were 'light-hearted' about the war, believing 'that it would be all over by Christmas' (qtd. in Gardner 2003, 36), but top British figures in fact came down on both sides of the debate. Sir Douglas Haig called for a vast expansion of the army from the outset, sharing Kitchener's view that the war would last several years. On the other hand, BEF commander Sir John French appears to have believed it would be very short, as did his chief of staff Sir Archibald Murray (see Simkins 1988, 38-39; Holmes 1981, 198; Esher 1938, 177). The reportedly shocked reaction of Kitchener's Cabinet colleagues to his long-war prediction suggests that politicians did not share his view but, from late August at least, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith 'warned […] that the war would be “a protracted struggle”, similar to the twenty years' struggle waged against the French'. 25

Whatever their projections in August 1914, the lack of major military preparation for a long war seems to suggest at best a belief among the military that a war would be short or at least not involve a substantial military presence on the continent, or at worst a lack of consideration of the potential course of a European war at all. 26 On the other hand, the planned naval blockade of Germany would not have been anywhere near as effective in a three- or four-month war as it came to be in the years after 1914. By contrast, the French, German and Russian war plans involved offensive land warfare that could be hoped to win the war quickly and thus prompt better-grounded predictions of a short war. Even in Berlin, the duration of a 'world war' was uncertain, though: at the end of July, General von Moltke commented that 'Few can have an idea of the extent, the duration and the end of this war' (qtd. in Strachan 2010, 9). Leaders were not necessarily convinced of a quick victory, even with ambitious offensive plans such as those of the German Army. Likewise, there was no consensus among British civilians, soldiers or leaders over when the war would end, be it Christmas or otherwise. In addition, people's opinions were not static: the events of late 1914 led to a wide and shifting range of views on the war.

Possible reasons


The idea of a war ending before the close of 1914 appeared in different guises. Belief in a quick victory and hope for a speedy end to the war were quite different responses, but have combined to create an impression of agreement on the war's likely duration. Belief relied on a sense of the inevitability of victory and the superiority of one's nation's military and those of its allies over that of the enemy. Hope for a quick victory is probably almost universal among societies entering a war. 27 This hope was linked to a disbelief in a long war: people simply did not want to imagine that they and their loved ones would have to fight a long war or suffer for long the deprivations that war would bring. Alternatively, it could be rooted in Norman Angell's view of the economic pointlessness of such a war and its dire consequences. Indeed, the dominant popular reaction to the war in Britain in early August 1914 was not a massive rush of enthusiasm, but rather shock and worry over the consequences of war for the British people, as shown by the relief funds that were quickly established both nationally and locally (see Gregory 2003; Ferguson 1998, ch. 7; Wilson 1986, ch. 15). A similar reaction of concern and anxiety has been noted in France and Germany (see Becker 1992 and Verhey 2000). In this way, what hopes civilians had for peace by Christmas were analogous to the 'mental coping strategy' in which Watson rightly identifies the idea among serving soldiers (Watson 2008, ch. 3).

In 1916, a writer in the magazine The Quiver reflected on the emotional benefits of thinking the war would be short in 1914:

Looking back now, would you rather have had the prophetic instinct, and have foreseen 'the things that were to come to pass' - the long duration of the war, the 1915 failures, compulsion, etc. - or would you rather have been left as you were in the dark, and believed, with nine out of ten, that the whole business would be over by Christmas? I confess that I would rather have been spared the knowledge of what had to be borne, rather have cherished my fond delusion as to the war's speedy termination […] than have been rendered prostrate and hopeless by a fuller knowledge of all that must be suffered before the end could come! 28

If anything, ideas of a war ending by Christmas rested largely on a disbelief that such a dreadful state of affairs could possibly go on for a long time and a desire to survive, rather than a rational or over-optimistic belief in its imminent resolution. A soldier's letter printed in the Daily Mirror in October echoes this, stating that 'our only hope and wish is that it will all be over by Christmas' - not that the writer actually thought it would be. 29
Norman Angell's 1910 book The Great Illusion prompted many, including important leaders and opinion-makers, to think of war between great powers as impossible thanks to Angell's description of it as economically irrational. War was felt to be so disruptive of international economics as to cause a financial collapse; a corollary of which was that the powers could not afford to fight a long war, and any such war would thus be short (see Weinroth 1974; Ferguson 1998, 20-23, 191; Marrin 1974, 67). Accordingly, George Bernard Shaw thought Kitchener a fool to predict a long war as it would cost so much, while John Maynard Keynes was reportedly 'quite certain that the war could not last more than a year'. 30 Sir Archibald Murray's prediction, recorded by Lord Esher, echoed these views: 'the war will last three months if everything goes well, and perhaps eight months if things do not go satisfactorily. Beyond that he thinks it impossible to feed the armies in the field and the populations concerned, and the financial strain would be more than Europe could bear' (Esher 1938, 177). The idea of a bankrupting war, though, was not commonly expressed in public in 1914 other than speculation that Germany had gambled on a short war and could not afford a long one.

With a wide and shifting array of views expressed in 1914, no single prediction about the war dominated. People did not foresee the eventual duration and destructiveness of the war, but this does not mean that they thought it would be quick and easy. Britain had fought for two and a half years in both the Crimea in 1853-56 and South Africa in 1899-1902. It would not be surprising for these wars to have influenced people's expectations in 1914, suggesting a tough war of a few years, even if not the half-decade's slaughter that ensued. The Daily Mirror referred to a supposedly common belief in 1899 that that war would end by Christmas, and warned against the same feeling this time around. 31 Some people recalled, like Lord Esher, the unexpectedly effective mobilization of Confederate forces in the American Civil War, which allowed them to fight a modern war for five years (Esher 1938, 193).

The choice of Christmas as a projected date for predictions (whether real or attributed) is not a great surprise, given its combination of a religious festival and a major family event. By the First World War, Christmas was a well-established occasion in Britain and weekly postal deliveries increased from 14.5 million to 25 million in the weeks before Christmas 1913. Likewise, over 2.5 million letters and cards were sent to troops in France and Flanders in just one week before Christmas 1914, nearly ten per soldier (Scott 1993, 1, 6). The idea of being home for Christmas combined two of Watson's 'coping strategies' for trench warfare: religious belief and thoughts of home, particularly for soldiers with wives and children (Watson 2008, ch. 3, App. 1). The thought of spending Christmas at home is the most powerful example of the importance of home and a longing to rejoin civilian society that was at the heart of soldiers' wartime mentalities. The British Third Army postal censorship reports later repeatedly stressed the importance of links with home and particularly of home leave in maintaining soldiers' morale, as did Sir Douglas Haig as BEF commander in December 1917. 32 Such motivating factors do not change with time; far from being alienated from their home societies, Great War soldiers, like those in other wars, fought largely because they wished to get home. 33 According to H.G. Wells, 'The mind of the soldier is obsessed by a vision of home-coming for good, so vivid and alluring that it blots out nearly every other consideration' (Wells 1917, 266). As the time most closely associated with home and peace, 'Christmas was always the pivot of Tommy's life' (Raymond 1922, 243).

In the opening weeks and months of the Great War, then, there was no consensus as to the likely duration of the war among British leaders, civilians or soldiers. Some felt that it might be short or even initially that it might end by Christmas; but they were far from the majority, and people's actions and stated opinions suggest that concern and anxiety rather than optimism and enthusiasm greeted the war. From late August, the worsening situation in France and Belgium pushed men to enlist and convinced people that the war would last a long time. The horrors of modern warfare (and pre-war expectations of the war's effects on social conditions) drove people - particularly those who experienced it first-hand - away from any belief they might have had that it would end soon, and towards a hope that it would. The notion that 'people' thought that the war would end by Christmas soon became a rhetorical device for those calling on men to enlist, as well as those who criticized the government and military for their lack of preparation for the war. Between them, these various factors have helped create a homogenous picture of optimism for a short war.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:25    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

'Over by Christmas' after 1914


1915-18



Acknowledging that the idea that the war would be over by Christmas was useful for soldiers in 1914, Alexander Watson asserts that once 'trench warfare became fully established, such concrete predictions became rarer', giving way to peace rumours (Watson 2008, 100). In fact, predictions continued to be made throughout the war. Although Christmas was not the only projected endpoint, it was still widely used; 34 calendar years offered a suitable alternative time-frame to predict peace, while the prospect of peace and a return home at the conclusion of the next great offensive was a major spur for men to fight. At the end of 1914, Michael MacDonagh recorded Londoners' confidence that victory and peace would come in 1915, and new arrivals at the front that year asserted a similar belief. 35 That February, an Oxford fellow bet a colleague two bottles of port that the Germans would be completely defeated by May 1916. An Essex farmer commented in September 1916 that some optimists saw Germany giving in before Christmas. 36 Earlier that year, Rifleman Alec Reader told his mother that he was sure to be home for Christmas dinner, while another soldier predicted an end to hostilities precisely on 14 May 1917 and made a bet over the war ending by Christmas 1916. 37 Schoolmaster R.W.M. Gibbs made a similar bet with his outfitter, predicting that the war would end in 1916; and in October 1917, two artillery officers made a bet over the war ending before Christmas that year. 38

In general, around another year was the limit of specific predictions for the duration of the war by soldiers: Robert Graves recalled that he and his fellow officers never believed that the war would last more than another nine or twelve months (Graves 1960, 137). Civilians seem to have had a similar limit to their predictions, as when the Daily Mirror asked a series of 'experts' for their opinion in August 1915: those who could be drawn to give a prediction suggested one year (an MP), sometime in 1916 (G.K. Chesterton), by the end of February 1916 (editor of the Spectator), and before Christmas 1915 ('a naval expert'), while others vaguely predicted a long war. 39 Throughout the war, a small number of insurers offered rates of insurance against the 'risk' of peace being made before a certain date: in 1914, even odds were given on peace by March 1915, but the 'risk' of peace within around 12 months decreased gradually from 75% in Spring 1915 to only evens in August 1917. 40 An astrological booklet written in January 1915 claimed to provide a 'scientific prediction' that peace would be made in October that year, or if not 'the the war will continue into the spring of 1916' - but not much longer. 41 When he was conscripted in summer 1916, Edwin Bennett promised his family that the war would end and he would be home again to play with his new daughter within a year. 42

Some, on the other hand, were fatalistic about the duration of the war, like Jack Sweeney, who in 1916 predicted another five years' fighting, while the adage that the first five years would be the worst was repeated across the BEF. 43 When asked about the war's duration, A.M. Burrage took to saying irritably that 'the first seventeen years would be the worst' (Ex-Private X [A.M. Burrage] 1930, 210). Longer forecasts could be framed in terms of Christmases, as in the case of a wounded soldier who told Andrew Clark in June 1915 that 'the belief at the front is that the war will last over Xmas 1915, and even over Xmas 1916' (Munson 1985, 72). A year later, one of Clark's more opinionated acquaintances assured him that the 'official date' for the end of the war was going to be September 1917, according to 'military circles in London'; in early 1917, the same man spoke of the 'great folly which is spoken by young officers just back from the front, who say that the war will be over in June or July. July next year [1918] would be nearer the mark' (Munson 1985, 106, 191). Some repeatedly asserted that the present year was the one that would bring peace and were duly derided. 44

In 1917, H.G. Wells reflected on continued predictions made about the likely duration of the war and, although dismissing them as 'the very wildest of shooting', recounted his own predictions since 1914 (Wells 1917, 267-8):

In those days I wrote of the French being over the Rhine before 1915. But it was the Germans who entrenched first. […] Since then I have made some other attempts. I did not prophesy at all in 1915, so far as I can remember. If I had I should certainly have backed the Gallipoli attempt to win. It was the right thing to do, and it was done abominably. […] I was very hopeful of the western offensive in 1915; and in 1916 I counted still on our continuing push.

These predictions were clearly built upon expectations of success in British offensives. Gary Sheffield stresses the particularly high morale of the BEF in the build-up to the 1916 Battle of the Somme, the first major British-led offensive on the Western Front (Sheffield 2001, 115-7). This was perhaps the highest point of optimistic British predictions, such as that of Alec Reader who was killed in September and an Essex soldier who reported 'that the soldiers' belief was that, once the Campaign began, the war would not last long' (Hanson 2005, 121; Munson 1985, 129). Many wrote home that the war would be over soon, possibly even in August, but at least by Christmas. 45 As Wells's predictions suggest, the annual major British attacks in France and Belgium, from Loos in September 1915 through the Third Ypres (or 'Passchendaele') in 1917 to the 'hundred days' campaign of 1918, each played a great part in raising and (with the exception of 1918) shattering prospects that peace would come that year. To some soldiers, especially those arriving at the front for the first time, the sheer scale of the army and the build-up to an offensive inspired optimism: with this much firepower, how could the war not be over soon?
The famous prediction of peace by Christmas published in John Bull in October 1917 was parodied at the time, but is backed up as a reflection of soldiers' opinion by F.S. Oliver, who visited the front in October and found 'quiet confidence everywhere'. Reflecting back after his return, he found that Allied failures on the Western Front and elsewhere and continued German strength had since undermined this confidence. 46 This decline in confidence can be seen in the results of the 'hardy annual [debates] on the progress of the war' held at Talbot House, the British soldiers' 'everyman's club' in Poperinghe, Belgium, each January on the motion that 'the House is decidedly convinced that the war will be over this year'. In 1916, the motion was carried by 150 votes to 8 and in 1917 by 200 to 15; in January 1918, however, the motion was tied with 80 votes each way and was only carried by a casting vote from the chairman. In the words of Talbot House's chronicler, 'the voting was more an indication of morale than of reasoning facilities' in the debates. 47

Where offensives raised hopes of peace, the harsh conditions of winter at the front - and to a lesser extent at home, as coal and food shortages began to bite - increased the sense of longing for a peaceful winter. The postal censor listed the growing awareness that another winter would be spent in the trenches as one of the contributing factors in the decline in soldiers' morale in late 1917. 48 The British official history later described the effects of winter in the trenches in 1914-15 as 'depression' and the following one was scarcely better for the BEF (Sheffield 2001, 128-9). The winter of 1917-18 saw problems on the battlefield coincide with problems at home, leading to pessimism about the war on both: Mrs Bennett in Walthamstow wrote in January 1918 that civilians could more easily tolerate shortages and hardship if there was some prospect of peace. 49

In the tumult of the German Spring Offensive and eventual turn of the battle in favour of the allies, an imminent victory did not appear likely to many Britons through spring and summer 1918. Haig's recognition of the 'real possibility (although not a certainty) of winning the war' that year was virtually unique amid the 'deep pessimism among other British decision-makers', but even his optimism waned in October and he warned that the Germans could hold out until 1919 (Sheffield and Bourne 2005, 40-1). Opinions likewise varied among his soldiers: one soldier worried in July that his attempt to transfer to the Royal Air Force might be scuppered by the end of the war, while another wondered if his leave in early 1919 would be affected by an offensive. In September, a Canadian soldier wrote home that things 'over here have been looking good the last month or so and there is still time before cold weather to do some good work. The winter will doubtless be spent quietly and then we will start things in the spring fast and furious and wind it up quick and be home for Xmas [1919]'. 50

There was no consensus at any point as to the projected duration of the war; men continued to predict and refute predictions of an imminent peace right up until the Armistice. The uncertainty, and the ridicule, attached to firm predictions of when the war might end are suggested in this undated poem (qtd. in Liddle 1979, 8):

Absolute evidence have I none,

But my Aunt's charwoman's sisters son

Heard a policeman on his beat

Telling a maid in Downing Street

That he'd got a sister who'd got a friend

Who knew for a fact when the war would end.

Hopes for and belief in imminent victory coexisted with a disbelief that the war could possibly go on much longer and fear of many months more of conflict, anxiety and hardship. These could all provoke predictions of peace within months, based on both emotional and rational grounds. There was the obvious appeal of peace and the return of loved ones at Christmas, rather than a winter of shortages or muddy trenches; similarly, preparation for great offensives required and inspired a belief that they would shorten the war, in addition to which it was clear that fighting would have to stop in midwinter. These factors made the ends of calendar years and Christmases the most common dates for a predicted peace, while the offensive role of the British Army from 1915 made the prediction apparently more realistic and, it seems, more common.
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Beyond 1914-18


Historians often assume that the generation facing war in 1939 were more aware of its likely duration than those 25 years before, having 'no cavalier assumptions' of the war ending by Christmas (Cannadine 1981, 232). In the words of one, the government, '[p]erhaps mindful of the vain August 1914 imaginings that the fighting would be over by Christmas, […] lost no time in announcing that it would be a long and arduous haul this time around. A war of three-years duration was, from the outset, anticipated […]' (Smart 2003, 73). While knowledge of the necessary preparations was more attuned to twentieth-century warfare by this point, it is remarkable that the prediction was exactly that made by Kitchener in 1914. It is interesting to look at contemporary public responses to the 1939 prediction of a three-year war: Nella Last noted that it shocked many people (Last 1983, 14), while a Mass-Observation report showed that it was simply disbelieved by most Britons. In November that year, they asked people's opinions as to the length of the war, with results that strongly echo F.S. Oliver's observations at the start of 1915: only 19% thought that it would last three years (considerably more than before the government's prediction was publicized), whereas 21% expected it to last 'nine months to two years' and the same proportion thought that the war would be over in less than six months, only two decades after the 52-month Great War! The report noted 'the exceptionally high proportion [29 percent] who can't answer', many of whom had 'thought there would never be a war and since its outbreak have been wishfully thinking it away' (Harrison and Madge 1940, 420-1). As throughout the Great War, many people were unwilling to countenance the distress and anxiety that a long war would bring, meaning that predictions varied widely as hopes for peace competed with realistic assessments.

Ideas about each war's duration in 1914 and 1939 were affected by similar emotions: people feared a long war, but were not all optimistic of an imminent victory; as both wars wore on, any prospect of approaching (victorious) peace was eagerly grasped. When the tide of the Second World War turned in favour of the Allies, civilians and leaders (with the exception, it seems, of Winston Churchill) again hoped and believed that victory was within reach. British Intelligence predicted the 'imminent' collapse of Germany throughout 1944, and General Bernard Montgomery is said to have bet US General Omar Bradley that the war would end by November that year. In fact, earlier planning was much more accurate in setting a projected end date for the war in Europe by June 1945 (Andidora 2002, 146-7, 171). The British public were equally keen to predict an early conclusion to the war: Richard Brown recorded on 1 January 1943 that 'almost everyone hopes and believes this was the last blacked-out Christmas'. 51 A study of British intelligence reports shows that the feeling was not confined to the generals and Brown's neighbours: after Allied successes in North Africa in late 1942, 'some very optimistic souls predicted victory by Christmas 1942, while most were more cautious, seeing victory, however, by Christmas 1943 at the latest'. By September 1943, this idea was replaced by one that the war would end in 1944 (Doherty 2000, 169). In some ways, this was the inverse of the reaction in the First World War: where Britons saw planned offensives in 1915-18 as heralding the end of the war, those in the later war reacted with optimism to the few Allied successes in 1942-43 and especially the invasion of mainland Europe from June 1944. Considering the continuing and varied predictions of the First World War's duration, we should not be surprised to find the same in other wars. More surprising is that, although the 'short war' idea has become a defining popular memory about 1914, the same attitude among those in the next war has since gone almost unnoticed.

It was not only the world wars in which people felt this longing to be home for Christmas: in 1950, US General Douglas MacArthur openly stated that his up-coming offensive in Korea would be successful and that his men would be home for their Christmas dinner. 52 Thus, a man who had served in both world wars made exactly the kind of public statement by a leader that was absent in 1914. Predictions of short wars and retrospective criticism of them continue to this day (see Bailey 2005); furthermore, they were not new in the Great War - those under siege at Ladysmith in 1899 were initially heartened by the idea that the siege would 'end by Christmas at the furthest', according to a diarist among them, and by the end of 1900, newspapers were referring to the public having been 'assured [that the war] would be over last Christmas'. 53 A 1905 biography of a British Crimean War commander quotes his distaste for newspaper pressure for a victory before winter 1854; the biographer then comments that this was 'a curious forerunner of the ideas held by those who, October 1899, assumed that the Boer War would be “over by Christmas”' (Verner 1905, 428). A book of American phrases refers to the idea of a war being 'over by Christmas' as 'a popular 1861 expression', referring to the first Christmas of their civil war. 54 Given the misleading power of the 1914 legend, we must treat retrospective attributions with some caution, but these and real contemporary uses do tell us something of the importance of Christmas in Christian nations at war, and the powerful idea that a war will end soon - whether genuinely felt at the time or attributed later.
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The 1914 legend


Given the disparity between the retrospective prominence of the 'over by Christmas' idea and the relative lack of contemporary evidence, it is interesting to observe how quickly it reached such legendary status during the war itself. As early as 1916, a rather adventure-novelistic memoir features a Tommy in 1914 saying 'It will be all over by Christmas - but I'd 'ave liked just one slap at them Germans, so as I could tell the missis' (Corbett-Smith 1926, 89-90). As we have seen, this is not an unlikely sentiment for a soldier prior to seeing action, but other books that year portrayed the idea existing among young officers and the population in general at the start of the war, as did the Quiver writer quoted above (Hockley 1916, 30-1; 'Casualty' [Arnold Gyte] 1916, 45). A year later, late-1914 rhetoric was evoked in a novel, explaining the presence of military-aged unenlisted men in the street by their being 'quite convinced, by the tone of certain journals, that their services were not urgently needed elsewhere; that the war would probably be over by Christmas' (Diver 1929, 185).

Before the war had ended, the modern association of the phrase with the genuine slogan of 'Business As Usual' had begun, the two symbolizing British unpreparedness for the war. At least one local newspaper reflected in August 1918 on the outbreak of war four years earlier: 'Business as usual, victory in a few months, queues at the recruiting offices, and anxious recruits turned away'. 55 The two phrases were combined then (and since) to critique the 'wait and see' policies of the Asquith government, particularly early problems in raising the New Armies, the production of munitions and the lack of conscription from the start of the war or before. 56 A 1919 article thus referred to 'those early days [of the war] - when many people talked glibly of the war being over by Christmas', preventing proper discussion and planning for the armaments needed for the trench war that developed (Mahon 1919, 207-26, 218). There must have been some self-justification in David Lloyd George's statement that '“Over by Christmas” was the popular slogan [of 1914], which was used to excuse the corresponding cry, “Business as Usual”', particularly since he used the latter phrase as Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1914. 57

With the idea that people had expected victory before the end of 1914 well established during the war, we should not be surprised to find it in post-war writing. Thus works of fiction like A.S.M. Hutchinson's 1921 bestseller If Winter Comes and Robert Keable's Simon Called Peter feature characters predicting an early end to the war; during the later war books 'boom', authors from Robert Graves to J.L. Hodson continued the trend, as did Henry Williamson, whose character Pte. John Bullock expects the war to end by Christmas, unlike Williamson himself that summer. 58 By this stage, it had morphed from a reason for men to hold back into part of the reason that men enlisted; here we see the other half of the modern image of the phrase, the first significant appearance of the short war spurring recruiting. As an image of complacency and over-optimism in 1914 and in pre-war planning, the phrase was used to warn of the same occurring in future, as in J.F.C. Fuller's 1931 criticism of Britain's lack of military preparation for the next war. 59 The 1939 Mass-Observation survey suggests that the civilian population did not heed warnings about complacency and expectations of a short war.

Since 1945, the phrase has entered common usage both in reference to optimistic expectations of a war's duration and to (genuinely or ironically) optimistic predictions about other occurrences, such as economic recessions. 60 Its use is deeply connected to popular impressions of 1914 and it has become a useful tool for writers of dramas, novels and histories to site their work in that year, to point out a 'nave' generation's lack of preparation and supposed enthusiasm for the Great War, and to 'ignite a knowing chuckle' in their audience. 61
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Conclusion


Britons in 1914 did not universally greet the war with enthusiasm, nor did they all believe that the war would be over by Christmas. There was a huge range of responses to the war, from fear and worry about its consequences to a desire to join up immediately and fight the Germans. Equally, people's beliefs as to the duration of the war were numerous and dynamic: most probably felt it would last into 1915, or possibly longer, but ardently hoped for an early settlement of the conflict so as to limit its impact. The idea of the war being 'over by Christmas' existed to the extent that it was a recognized opinion, and one that Punch could mock in a sketch in which the sardonic reflection that the war would be over by Christmas was greeted with the (in retrospect, curiously accurate) response 'Christmas, 1918, you mean, I suppose?'. 62 It was less prominent as a genuine opinion among civilians than as a rhetorical device, primarily as a negative stereotype to aid recruiting, to critique Britain's lack of adequate preparation or to parody other people's faulty or over-optimistic predictions.

The words and actions of civilians and leaders do not suggest that expectations of peace by Christmas were widespread, and they certainly did not spur the recruiting boom of late summer 1914. Soldiers more frequently predicted peace by Christmas, some hoping to play some part in the war and fearing a quick peace; once soldiers had seen action, they, like civilians, began to long for peace and their return home. The desire on the part of both soldiers and civilians for the war to end soon (but victoriously) and the particular appeal of Christmas as a religious and familial occasion made predictions of a return by Christmas a very desirable notion in 1914 and afterwards. What could be closer to the hearts of soldiers, and particularly the citizens-in-uniform of Britain's world war armies, than wanting to be at home for Christmas? As part of the image of a nation unprepared for war, 'over by Christmas' is an iconic phrase that has become accepted as ubiquitous in and singular to 1914. It was neither.

Acknowledgements


Thanks to Adrian Gregory, James Kitchen, Sarah Roger and Eve Colpus for their useful advice and comments on this paper.
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Notes


1. Kennedy 1984, 8.


2. For example Stone 2008, 37.


3. For the press's supposed role see Graves 1960, 60 and Partridge 1985, 169.


4. Searle 2004, ch. 17; Beckett 2001, ch. 3; Soames 1979, ch. 8; 'Miss Read' [Dora Saint], 1999, ch. 11; see also the Guardian, 1 November 1989.


5. See Gregory 2003; Hiley 1997.


6. Bodleian Library, MSS Eng hist e. 88-95: Andrew Clark, 'Echoes of the Great War' diaries, 1914: officer's prediction from 29 September 1914.


7. Irish Times, 5 December 1914.


8. The Territorial Force (TF) was formed in 1908 for home defence, but many whole units took the pledge to serve overseas in 1914. Most of the TF sent to France in 1914 were intended to work solely in the Lines of Communication, but many (notably the London Scottish) ended up fighting at the front. See Beckett 1985, especially 131-2.


9. Major Frederick Taylor at a recruiting meeting in Great Leighs, Bodleian Library, Clark diaries, 6 September 1914. I am very grateful to David Oberlin-Harris for permission to quote from his grandfather's diary.


10. See letter from Frank Lucas in Williamson, 1998, 18.


11. Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1914; Daily Mirror, 10 November 1914.


12. The Scotsman, 29 October 1914.


13. IWM Collections Online, 'Princess Mary's Gift', http://collections.iwm.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.994.


14. See for example Hamilton and Reed 2009, 34.


15. Imperial War Museum (IWM), 84/22/1, B.O. Dewes diary, 29 November 1914, also quoted in Watson 2008, 100. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and the IWM would be grateful for any information that might help to trace those whose identities or addresses are not currently known.


16. For example, Saffron Walden Weekly News, 16 October 1914, and Major Bonham-Carter quoted in Wilson 1986, 71.


17. Letter dated 7 November 1914 in Great Eastern Railway Magazine, 14 December 1915; letter from Pte F.E. Clark, dated 13 December 1914 in Bell 1998, 13; IWM 78/4/1, T.H. Cubbon diary, 28 September 1914.


18. Dewes served in the Artists Rifles (1/28th Battalion, London Regiment), who were in France from October but not as a frontline unit. His first diary entry in the trenches was on 8 December 1914; see IWM, Dewes diary. F.E. Clark's letter was written after his similarly upper-class Territorial unit (the Honourable Artillery Company, an infantry unit) had served in the trenches.


19. National Army Museum (NAM), 1984-06-135, Mrs Courtauld diary, 21 September 1914; IWM 90/37/1, R.H. Owen letters, 13 September 1914 and 24 September 1914.


20. For example, letter published in Galway Express, 17 October 1914, and quoted in Henry 2008, 153.


21. Goodland 1999, 6, letter dated 19 September 1914.


22. Pollard 1915, 70, letter dated 19 October 1914.


23. For example see letter from a Private Allison in January 1915 expressing resignation to a long war, in Sheffield 2001, 114. Watson sees this resignation as overcoming predictions for a specific end date to hostilities (2008, 100).


24. See The Times, 9 October 1914 and syndicated stories in the national press on 25 September 1914.


25. See Gilbert 1994, 37; Matthew 2004. The quotation comes from Asquith's Mansion House speech of 27 August 1914.


26. Sheffield notes criticism of the British unpreparedness for the first winter of war (2001, 113).


27. Philip Warner makes this point about 1914 (2000, 5).


28. The Quiver, August 1916, p. 922.


29. Daily Mirror, 9 October 1914.


30. Ferguson 1998, 32; Laurence 1985, 247; Keynes, qtd. in Keynes and Hutchison 1973, 145.


31. Daily Mirror, 12 November 1914.


32. IWM 84/36/1, M. Hardie papers, for example 'Report on Moral, &c, III Army', January 1917, p. 10; Edmonds 1935, 39. On the importance of links with home see also McCartney 2005, and Ziemann 2007.


33. A recent study of US soldiers found that their reasons for fighting were much the same as in the 1940s: home and their comrades (Wong et al. 2003, 2, 9). Perhaps the most influential view of the soldier as 'alienated' is Eric Leed's No Man's Land (1979).


34. The BBC Radio Stoke programme 'It Will All Be Over By Christmas' (1972) began with examples of predictions of the war ending by Christmas in 1916 and 1917 (IWM Sound Archive, record 999).


35. MacDonagh 1935, 46, 48; Alexander Ewen letters, Canadian Letters and Images, http://www.canadianletters.ca/letterlist.php?collectionid=257&docid=1&warid=3, 7, 12 and 24 May and 13 June 1915.


36. Quoted in Weber 2006, 82; Essex Record Office, T/B 245, R.T. Bull diary, 8 September 1916.


37. Hanson 2005, 121; IWM 80/43/1, J.B. Payne diary, 18 May 1916 (Payne bet against the war ending so soon) and declaration dated 3 April 1916.


38. Bodleian Library, MSS Eng misc c. 177, R.W.M. Gibbs diary, 31 January 1916; Riggs, Kendall, and McCullough 2005, 86.


39. Daily Mirror, 3 August 1915.


40. The Times reports of 'war insurance' rates, 4 February 1915, 11 August 1915, 17 March 1916, 15 April 1916, 22 August 1917, 17 August 1918.


41. Leo 1915, 5. The Daily Mirror (20 February 1915) review commented that Leo failed to actually give an end date for the war.


42. IWM 96/3/1, E.S. Bennett papers, referred to in Edith's letter to Edwin Bennett, 4 August 1917.


43. IWM Con Shelf, D.J. Sweeney papers, letter to Ivy Williams, 28 August 1916; NAM, 2006-07-8, A.J. Dennison letters, 8 August 1917; Ward 1916, 118; Keeling 1918, 269.


44. See Daily Mirror, 24 March 1916 on the war 'Prophet' and the Manchester Guardian, 26 June 1915 and 19 October 1918 on the writer's 'friend Martius'.


45. IWM 96/48/1, Miss W. Williams papers, letter from L/Cpl E Hulty, 30 June 1916 (predicting August); Keeling 1918, 289, letter dated 1 June 1916 (predicting Christmas, as had Reader).


46. John Bull, 27 October 1917 carried the headline 'What odds peace by Xmas?' and suggested that this was a likely prospect; Punch, 21 November 1917; Oliver 1936, 212, 288; a Punch joke of 24 November 1920 had Horatio Bottomley predicting that the year would be over by Christmas.


47. This was the wording of the 1916 motion; in 1917, the house was 'firmly convinced', and in 1918 the motion was phrased 'profoundly convinced'. Clayton 1919, 42-3, italics in original. Thanks to Adrian Gregory for alerting me to these debates.


48. IWM Hardie papers, 'Report on Peace', October 1917; the other factors were the failure of the Third Battle of Ypres (linked to the winter in the trenches), pacifist talk at home and the lack of leave.


49. IWM Bennett papers, letter from Edith to Edwin Bennett, 8 January 1918, quoted in Gregory 2008, 215.


50. IWM Williams papers, letter from E. Hulty, 16 July 1918; McCartney 2005, 238;, Robert Shortreed letters, Canadian Letters and Images, http://www.canadianletters.ca/letters.php?letterid=7597&warid=3&docid=1&collectionid=309, 16 September 1918.


51. Brown 2003, 184. Brown maintained that the war would be longer.


52. The Times, 25 November 1950 and 28 November 1950. The Korean War lasted three years and cost the lives of over 90,000 United Nations soldiers.


53. Nevinson 1900, 178-9; Leeds Mercury, 24 December 1900.


54. Flexner 1976, 93. The Anglo-Boer War lasted until 1902 and cost over 20,000 British lives; the American Civil War lasted until 1865 and cost over 600,000 lives.


55. Stratford Express, 3 August 1918.


56. See for example Adelaide Advertiser, 21 February 1916 and Harrison 1915, 358; modern examples abound, as in Reynolds and Brasher 1964, 69.


57. Lloyd George 1938, 427. On Lloyd George and 'Business as Usual', see Marwick 1965, 39.


58. Hutchinson 1921, 82-3; Keable 1921, 30; Graves 1960, 60; Hodson 1954, 96; Williamson 1930, 7 (see also his 1914 letters, quoted above).


59. Victoria Stewart (2008) has suggested that Great War narratives in 1940s fiction served as a warning of what was to come of the succeeding generation; see also Daily Mirror, 12 December 1933.


60. See The Guardian, 22 January 1991 and 23 July 1993.


61. Quotation from Lawson 2009; for a modern literary example, see Barnes 1996, 91.


62. 'Swiss Leave' in Punch, 14 October 1914, p. 324.

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BerichtGeplaatst: 16 Feb 2011 14:27    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Over by Christmas': British popular opinion and the short war in 1914

Author: Stuart Hallifaxa
Affiliation: a The Queen's College, Oxford, UK
DOI: 10.1080/19475020.2010.517429
Article Requests: Order Reprints : Request Permissions
Published in: First World War Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 October 2010 , pages 103 - 121
Publication Frequency: 2 issues per year

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To cite this Article: Hallifax, Stuart '‘Over by Christmas’: British popular opinion and the short war in 1914', First World War Studies, 1:2, 103 - 121


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De site van Stuart Hallifax:
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