Buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0992890128/
Allan Mallinson from The Times reviewed new books on the wider aspects of the Great War. We were delighted that G.H.Q. was selected as one of the 6 books.
Sir Frank Fox’s G.H.Q., first published in 1920 and now reissued in a limited edition by his great-grandson, Charles Goodson- Wickes (Beaumont Fox, £25), is an absorbing study of Haig’s chateau-HQ at Montreuil-sur-Mer. Fox — a journalist and temporary soldier — paints a vivid picture of the comprehensive complexity of the British Expeditionary Force, with organisational diagrams, statistics and vignettes of day-to-day life.
The BEF, or more correctly in the later stages of the war the British Armies in France, was the largest organisation the country has ever maintained abroad — more than two million men. Montreuil-sur-Mer began to look as much like a colonial administration as an operational headquarters, with directors of agricultural production (Brigadier-General the Earl of Radnor) and forestry (Brigadier-General Lord Lovat), controllers of labour, of salvage and of canteens, subordinate directors of docks, of inland water transport, of roads, and of light railways. The list goes on, testimony to the industrialisation of the war and the sheer scale of Haig’s purview. For these and other reasons, on taking over as C-in-C at the end of 1915 he had moved GHQ back from Saint-Omer to Montreuil, almost on the Channel coast, placing him 70 miles and more behind the front line.
Fox writes: “It was the job of General Headquarters to try to see the war as a whole.” In fact. Haig found it difficult to see strategically beyond the Western Front or the tactical reality of the war in the trenches. Fox’s fascinating book explains a lot.”
The scan of the article is below and the link to the website here (summary only available to non-subscribers of The Times):
Six of the best First World War reads
You can also download the PDF of the article here: Six of the best First World War reads
Excerpt from THE SOMME A CONTEST OF ENDURANCE, Review Essay by Jack Spence:
So much for context. Two of the authors under review — Frank Fox and Taylor Downing — provide specialised treatment of two subjects: the work of General Headquarters (GHQ) based at Montreuil-sur-Mer and the impact of shell shock on those who suffered and those in authority who had to deal with it.
Frank Fox, whose G.H.Q. (Montreuil-sur-Mer) was ﬁrst published in 1920, was severely wounded on the Somme, but after a year’s convalescence returned to France as a staff officer at Montreuil.
The work was reissued in 2015 by Charles Goodson-Wickes, the author’s great-grandson and literary executor.
The reader is offered a meticulous and well—researched account of the vast bureaucratic structure and process required by Britain to prosecute the war successfully. This was, in many ways, a miracle of improvisation that governments of the past had never had to deal with on this scale, given the logistic requirements of modern war. In effect, the war, at one level of analysis, was a bureaucratic contest between states, all of which were seeking to mobilise and destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war most effectively. The author considers this in superb detail: for example, how munitions were supplied and despatched to the front; how medical facilities were organised; how horses and mules were cared for; and how a rudimentary educational system was devised. Fox is also illuminating on Secretary of State for War Horatio Kitchener’s New Army, providing an altogether fascinating account of the supporting role of the Dominions and the US. This argument is supported by a wealth of statistical information, photographs and a helpful chart detailing the various directorates and inspectorates controlled by the quartermaster general. Finally, there is a delicately phrased account of GHQ at play: ’monkish in its denial of some pleasures, rigid in discipline, exacting in work, but neither austere nor anxious’.7
This is an important text full of insight into how the British organised themselves for war.
7Frank Fox, G.H.Q. (Montreuil—sur-Mer)
(Beaumont Fox, 2015), p. 1.
(The RUSI Journal Dec 2016, Vol.161)
Buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0992890128/
The Times, Tuesday, Jul 04, 1922; pg. 16; Issue 43074; col C
Our War Graves In France. “The King’s Pilgrimage.”, A Fitting Record.
Sir Frank Fox is a largely forgotten figure whose life reads like a character from a John Buchan novel. A “strikingly handsome” Australian émigré to England, who became a doyen of Fleet Street, as a war correspondent he witnessed German atrocities against Belgian civilians in 1914 which so appalled him that he signed up – lying about his age – at 41.
Grievously injured at the Somme, he worked for a time at MI7, focused on bringing the USA into the war, before charming his way to a staff officer post at General Headquarters (GHQ) in Montreuil-sur-Mer, northern France.
GHQ was the ‘brain’ of the huge British expeditionary effort in France and Belgium, responsible for strategy, coordination with Allied governments, and administration.
This contemporary account, re-published to coincide with the centenary of GHQ’s move to Montreuil under Haig, is a fascinating reminder of the unsung but vital role of logistics in military success or failure – “for every rifleman in the trenches there are at least three people working to keep him supplied with food, clothing, ammunition, and on communication.”
The red-tabbed staff officers of GHQ, whose prior experience at best stretched to small colonial wars, suddenly found themselves as the “Board of Directors” of a vast wartime supermarket, transport (in charge of half a million horses, and a spider’s web of railways), laundry and health service which had to match the BEF’s tenfold growth 1914-16.
Fox compares the challenge to peacetime civilian administration: “Tell the manager of the London to Brighton line that next week he must carry 15 times the normal traffic for a number of days, and that it is extremely important that people observing his termini and his lines should not notice anything unusual”. During intense fighting, 1,934 tons of materiel had to be supplied to each mile of front, per day, to feed the war machine.
GHQ personnel led lives of monkish hard work, sealed tight inside Montreuil’s medieval ramparts against the dangers of espionage. Fox, who had experienced both, downplays the dangers of trench life, “not nearly so dangerous as one might judge from the lurid accounts of imaginative writers”, as set against the “fantastic” but punishing work at GHQ.
Work might continue through consecutive days and nights, and some men, tortured by their sometimes momentous effect on human lives, became unfit to work there. Hardly the image of cosy “chateau generalship” encouraged by some historians and “Blackadder”.
There are moments of high tension at GHQ when the Ludendorff Offensive of March 1918 smashed through British lines, threatening the Channel Ports, the conquest of which the author estimated could have extended the war by another ten years. GHQ worked then with the French on defensive preparations to destroy Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk and flood the Pas de Calais from the sea, which would have made “this great province a desert for two generations”.
From March 1918 until the Armistice, GHQ was subsumed under the overall command of the French Généralissime Marshal Foch, but continued to play its crucial role in the complex strategic and logistic planning for the ultimate defeat of the German Army.
This charming account, sometimes disjointed and written in the manner and language of its time, which will not please all modern readers, gives rare perspective on GHQ’s wartime operations. Its example 1916-18 (the author also reminds us that Montreuil was a jump off point for the Roman invasion of Britain, and “lay almost in sight” of Agincourt and Crecy) demonstrates the need for a flexible, bilateral approach to meet changing circumstances – at least in military and security affairs – rather than the over-idealistic “ever closer union” required by some of Britain’s current allies.
Buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Pilgrimage…/dp/0992890160/
Excerpt from Chapter II of The Agony of Belgium by Sir Frank Fox page 19 with the speech from King Albert I to the Belgium parliament on August 4th, 1914.
On July 31st, 1914, the mobilization of the Belgian Army was ordered, and the Belgian King at the same time called publicly Europe’s attention to the fact that Germany, Great Britain and France were solemnly bound to respect and to defend the neutrality of his country. On August 2nd, Great Britain and France having replied that they would faithfully observe their treaty obligations, Germany intimated to Belgium that she intended to march troops through her territory to attack France, and if Belgium would acquiesce in this, then Belgium would not be annexed after the war and no damage would be done.
On August 3rd Belgium replied that to assent to that would be to sacrifice her national honour and to betray her duty to Europe, and on August 4th the Belgian King, addressing his Parliament, said:
“Never since 1830 has a graver hour sounded for Belgium. The strength of our right and the need of Europe for our autonomous existence make us still hope that the dreaded events will not occur. If it is necessary for us to resist an invasion of our soil, however, that duty will find us armed and ready to make the greatest sacrifices. If a stranger should violate our territory, he will find all the Belgians gathered round their Sovereign, who will never betray his Constitutional Oath. I have faith in our destinies. A country which defends itself wins the respect of everyone and cannot perish. God will be with us.”
The same day the German Army violated Belgian territory, crossing the frontier at dawn. On August 4th Liége was attacked and on August 7th fell.*