1916: the cost of attrition

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In July, to mark the centenary of Australia's introduction to the Western Front, the Australian War Memorial held an international conference 1916: the cost of attrition, that brought together renowned historians from Australia and abroad to cast fresh light and international perspectives on many aspects of the war in 1916.

The conference was held from Wednesday 20 to Friday 22 July 2016 in the BAE Systems Theatre at the Australian War Memorial and was live streamed through our website. 

Program

Download a copy of the Conference program

 

Tuesday 19 July - Preliminary activities (optional attendance)

4.45–5.15 pm

Last Post Ceremony commemorating Private David Barr and Private Colin Campbell Barr, 60th Battalion AIF, to mark the centenary anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, 19 July 1916. Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial

6.00-8.00 pm

Welcome reception hosted by His Excellency Christophe Lecourtier, Ambassador of France. Embassy of France, 6 Perth Avenue, Yarralumla

Day 1

Wednesday 20 July

8.15 am Registration and coffee
9.00 am

Welcome and introduction, Dr Brendan Nelson AO, Director of the Australian War Memorial

 

Keynote address: Canada, Australia, and Divergent Memories of the Great War   
Dr Tim Cook CM, Canadian War Museum

10.30-11.00 am Morning tea
Session 1 1916 -  Stalemate and slaughter
11.00 am

“They will rise to the occasion like the heroes they are”: The failure of 1st Anzac Corps on the Somme
Dr Meleah Hampton, Australian War Memorial

11.45 am

Judgment Day: Erich von Falkenhayn’s Plans for Victory in 1916 
Dr Robert T. Foley, King’s College London

12.30-1.30 pm Lunch
Session 2

1916 – The generals’ war

1.30 pm

All in it Together: British and Dominion Corps in the Battle of the Somme.
Dr Andy Simpson, Independent historian and author, United Kingdom

2.15 pm

Confusion and Opportunism? British Intelligence on the Somme
Dr Jim Beach, University of Northampton, United Kingdom

3.00-3.30 pm Afternoon tea
Session 3 Panel discussion
3.30–4.30 pm

The cost of attrition on the Western Front in 1916: a planned strategy or an outcome by default? Whose victory, at what cost?

Panel (TBA) with Q&A audience participation

4.30 pm

Close (and invitation to attend Last Post Ceremony in Commemorative Area)

4.45-5.15 pm

Last Post Ceremony (optional attendance) commemorating Gunner Edward Hanns, 1st Australian Field Artillery Brigade,
Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial

5.30 pm

Special after-hours tours of the Memorial’s First World War galleries

6.30–10.30 pm

Conference dinner, Anzac Hall, Australian War Memorial, Dinner speaker, Dr Peter Pedersen, ‘1916: Brothers in Arms’

Day 2

Thursday 21 July

8.30am Coffee for early arrivals
Session 4

1916 – Allied perspectives on the Somme

9.00 am

“Whole country a mass of shell holes and dead bodies:” The Canadian Forces and the Battle of the Somme, September-November 1916
Dr Tim Cook, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario

9.45 am

“Life is very cheap here”: The New Zealand Division on the Somme, September - October 1916
Professor Glyn Harper, Massey University, New Zealand

10.30-11.00 am Morning tea
Session 5 1916 – War of Illusions
11.00 am

“In the hands of the Hun”: The German treatment of British POWs on the Western Front, 1916-1918
Mr Aaron Pegram, Australian War Memorial

11.45 am

Attrition 1916: The Australian experience
Dr Robert Stevenson, Australian War Memorial

12.30-1.15 pm Lunch
Session 6

1916 – Perspectives from the other side of no man’s land

1.15-2.00 pm

A Tolerating of Mysteries
Mr Peter Barton, Independent historian, author and battlefield archaeologist, United Kingdom

2.00-2.15 pm Book launch: Attack on the Somme: 1st Anzac Corps and the Battle of Pozières Ridge, 1916, by Meleah Hampton
2.15-3.45 pm

Conference drinks reception with opportunities for meeting authors and speakers, book purchases and signings
Captain Reg Saunders gallery

Session 7 1916 – Other war theatres
3.45 pm

Learning Somme lessons? The impact and influence of the Somme campaign beyond the Western Front, 1916-1917
Dr Aimée Fox-Godden, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

4.30 pm

Sideshow or clash of empires? The Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s war of 1916
Dr Jean Bou, The Australian National University

5.15 pm

Close

Day 3

Friday 22 July

8.30 am Coffee for early arrivals
Session 8 1916 – War in the Air, War at Sea
9.00 am

From aircraft to air power: military aviation’s evolution in 1916
Dr Michael Molkentin, Shellharbour Anglican College, New South Wales

9.45 am

The battle of Jutland: Impact and consequences
Rear Admiral James Goldrick AO, CSC (Retd) Australian National University

10.30-11.00 am Morning tea
Session 9 1916 – The strains of war
11.00 am

Breaking point: soldiers’ morale, discipline and punishment on the Western Front, 1916
Mr Ashley Ekins, Australian War Memorial

11.45 am

Compelling a man to hate and kill: Conscription debates in Australia and the Empire, 1916
Professor Joan Beaumont, The Australian National University

12.30–1.30 pm Lunch
Session 10 1916 – Recording and remembering the war
1.30 pm

Trenches between the frames: Filming the Battle of the Somme
Mr Daniel Eisenberg, Australian War Memorial

2.15pm

On the Somme with Charles Bean
Mr Peter Burness, Australian War Memorial

3.00–3.15 pm Closing remarks and conference concludes
3.15-4.00 pm Afternoon tea
4.45–5.15 pm

Last Post Ceremony commemorating Private James George Coleman, 15th Battalion AIF (optional attendance), Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial

5.15 pm Close
 

Saturday 23 July (optional attendance)

4.45–5.15 pm

Last Post Ceremony commemorating Captain Ivor Stephen Margetts, 12th Battalion AIF, to mark the centenary anniversary of the Battle of Pozières, 23 July 1916
Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial

Featured speakers

Dr Peter Pedersen
Historian and author
Dinner Speaker: 1916: Brothers in Arms

Dr Peter Pedersen joined the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial as a Senior Historian in 2008, before becoming Head of the Research Centre and then Acting Assistant Director of the Memorial and Head of the National Collection Branch. He has written ten books on the First World War and contributions to several others, as well as numerous articles on campaigns from the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and battlefields worldwide. During the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign in 1990, he guided then Prime Ministers Thatcher and Hawke over the Gallipoli battlefields. He has also guided many tours to the Western Front and other battlefields in Europe and Asia, which included leading and organising the first British tour to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, the Australian Command and Staff College, and the University of New South Wales, Dr Pedersen commanded the 5th/7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, and was a political/strategic analyst in the Australian Office of National Assessments. His publications include: Monash as military commander (1985); Images of Gallipoli (1988); Hamel (2003); Fromelles (2004); Villers- Bretonneux (2004); The Anzacs: Gallipoli to the Western Front (2007, paperback edition, 2010); Anzacs at War (2010); Anzacs on the Western Front: the Australian War Memorial battlefield guide (with Chris Roberts, 2012); Anzac Treasures: the Gallipoli collection of the Australian War Memorial (2014, named ‘Illustrated book of the year’, Australian Book Industry Awards); Gallipoli, 25 April – 9 January 1916 (with Haluk Oral, 2015).

Peter Pedersen has featured in many documentary film and television productions. Most recently, he was historical consultant and presenter for Anzac Battlefields, a Foxtel/History Channel series on Australians and New Zealanders on the Western Front. He was also historical consultant and field presenter in the series, The Power of Ten, on Anzac Gallipoli VCs, produced by Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG for the Seven Network. Peter is currently consultant historian for the Australian government’s centenary commemorative projects on Australian battlefields of the Western Front.

Dr Tim Cook
Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario
Keynote Speech: Canada, Australia, and Divergent Memories of the Great War
Paper (day two): “Whole country a mass of shell holes and dead bodies”: The Canadian Forces and the Battle of the Somme, September-November 1916

The Canadian civilian soldiers from the Northern Dominion were viewed by the British as rowdy brawlers who eschewed discipline in favour of a good fight, but the first two years of the war had seen the Canadians suffer a series of losses and draws at places like Ypres, St Eloi, and Mount Sorrel. The Canadian Corps, eventually four divisions of 100,000 soldiers, was lucky to miss the first two months of the Battle of the Somme and arrived when the Germans were worn down in late August. Nonetheless, the Canadian Somme battles were among the most difficult and costly of the war. This paper will examine the Canadian fighting experience, analysing the reasons for success and failure, and how the Canadians endured the terrible strain of combat. The lessons of the Somme were crucial in provoking new tactics, doctrine, and technology, which ultimately led to greater success on the Western Front.

Dr Tim Cook, CM is the First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum (CWM), an Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University, and a former director for Canada’s History Society. He was the curator for the First World War permanent gallery at the CWM, and he has curated additional permanent, temporary, travelling, and digital exhibitions. Tim has published over 60 peer-reviewed and popular articles and has authored eight books, many of them award-winning. They include: At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914-1916, vol. 1 (2007); Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917-1918, vol. 2 (2008); The Necessary War: Canadians Fighting the Second World War (2014); and Fight to the Finish: Canadians in the Second World War 1944-1945 (2015). In 2012, Tim was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to Canadian history, and in 2013 he was the recipient of the Pierre Berton Award (the Governor-General’s History Award for Popular Media) which is awarded by Canada’s National History Society. The award was for his work in making military history “more accessible, vivid and factual”, both in his role as an author and as the First World War Historian at the Canadian War Museum. In December 2014 he was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Mr Peter Barton
Independent historian, author and battlefield archaeologist, United Kingdom
A Tolerating of Mysteries

We are presently commemorating the human catastrophe that was the First World War with greater passion than ever before. Yet despite thousands of books, films, papers and articles de­voted to the conflict over the past hundred years, we still have an unbalanced and unsatisfacto­ry narrative of its operational component: this was the component that transformed, disfigured and of course claimed the lives of so many, and therefore generated the perceptions that so strongly influence the way we today commemorate that war.

The primary reason is that German archival resources have never been explored with the same forensic degree of attention invested in, for example, British, Australian or Canadian records. As a result, long-accepted narratives are blighted by ignorance, drenched in inconsistency, and fre­quently fatally impaired by omission. We are all fully aware of this, but nevertheless acquiesce. In short, we tolerate mystery.

That distorted chronicle will not serve the needs of future generations of historians or readers. The problem is that despite widespread damage during the Second World War, the German resource remains so vast and detailed that the comprehensive, corroborative scrutiny of just one major battle could require a lifetime of study. The real history of the war itself has therefore not yet been compiled: we truly don’t yet know the half of it.

Based upon his recent archival and archaeological research, Peter Barton will reveal the scale of this challenge by offering some unusual and controversial examples from the cataclysmic events of the spring and summer of 1916.

Peter Barton is an historian and writer on First World War matters, and a film-maker and broadcaster producing and presenting historical documentaries for television and festivals. From 2002 to 2013, he was secretary of the All Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group. He works as a consultant with the French and Belgian institutes of Archaeology, advising on First World War excavations planned and in progress, and has himself instigated several unique archaeological excavations on the Western Front, including the Vampir Dugout project in 2007, the quest for the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector in 2010, and a four-year project at La Boisselle on the Somme. In the past Peter has organised reunions for First World War veterans, both in the UK and in France and Belgium. He instigated and designed the DCLI memorial unveiled by Harry Patch near Langemarck, Belgium in 2008, and also the Tunnellers Memorial in Givenchy, France (2010).

For the past decade, Peter’s focus has been the integration of international archival and genealogical research with practical archaeology on the battlefields, working with a range of specialists to apply the highest professional standards to this evolving discipline. The results at La Boisselle have been spectacular, and further excavations are planned for the future. His most recent book The Lost Legions of Fromelles (2014) was awarded the NSW Premier’s History Prize.

Dr Jim Beach
University of Northampton, United Kingdom
Confusion and Opportunism? British Intelligence on the Somme

In 1916 the British military intelligence system underwent significant change; fresh intelligence sources and organisational developments offered new opportunities for understanding the Germany army. At General Headquarters (GHQ) the intelligence staff, led by their new chief, Brigadier-General John Charteris, wrestled with sometimes confusing indicators to generate an intelligence picture for their commander and the wider British Expeditionary Force (BEF). This paper explains the creation of that intelligence feed, what it contained, and how – at key moments before and during the Battle of the Somme – it influenced General Douglas Haig’s decisions.

Dr Jim Beach has been Senior Lecturer in Twentieth Century History at the University of Northampton since 2012. Previously Lecturer in Military History at the University of Salford, from 2006 to 2015 he also served as Secretary of the Army Records Society. His research interests are focused upon British intelligence during the First World War. His monograph, Haig’s Intelligence: GHQ and the German Army, 1916-1918, was published in 2013. He recently edited The Diary of Corporal Vince Schürhoff, 1914-1918, a source which provides a rare window into grassroots intelligence work on the Western Front. He is currently writing a biography of an Intelligence Corps officer and, when researching that project, he was the 2014 Geraldine Grace and Maurice Alvin McWatters Visiting Fellow at Queen’s University, Ontario

Professor Joan Beaumont
The Australian National University, Canberra
Compelling a man to hate and kill: Conscription debates in Australia and the Empire, 1916

On the Australian home front, 1916 is best known for the first of two bitter debates about conscription for overseas service in the First World War. In the referendum of 28 October 1916, and the subsequent vote in December 1917, the Australian government failed to get the majority needed to introduce conscription. Australia, then, was almost alone among the British imperial armies in fielding an exclusively volunteer army; Britain, Canada and even New Zealand had all adopted conscription, albeit reluctantly. What accounts for this difference between the various elements of the Empire? What was it about the Australian political culture which meant that, despite the dominance of imperial loyalty and the yawning gap between losses on the Western Front and voluntary enlistment, conscription was rejected?

Professor Joan Beaumont is an internationally recognised historian of Australia in the two world wars, Australian defence and foreign policy, the history of prisoners of war, and the memory and heritage of war. Her publications include the critically acclaimed Broken Nation: Australians and the Great War (Allen & Unwin, 2013), which was joint winner of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award (Australian History), and winner of the 2014 NSW Premier’s Prize (Australian History), the 2014 Queensland Literary Award for History, and the Australian Society of Authors’ 2015 Asher Award. Her recent publications include: with Lachlan Grant, and Aaron Pegram (eds), Beyond Surrender: Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century (2015); ‘Commemoration in Australia: A memory orgy?’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 50/3 (2015); ‘The politics of memory: Commemorating the centenary of the First World War’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 50/3 (2015); ‘Australia’s Global Memory Footprint: Memorial Building on the Western Front, 1916-2015’, Australian Historical Studies, 46/1, (2015); and various entries in U. Daniel, P. Gatrell, O. Janz, H. Jones, J. Keene, A. Kramer & B. Nasson (eds), 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Professor Beaumont is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia, and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Her current research projects include: ‘Serving our country: A history of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the defence of Australia’; and ‘Second Shock; Australia’s Great Depression and the legacy of World War I’.

Dr Jean Bou
Strategic and Defence Studies Centre
The Australian National University, Canberra
Sideshow or clash of empires? The Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s war of 1916

The memory and history of the Great War is dominated, for many good reasons, by the Western Front, but it is worth remembering that the second largest British land campaign of the war was fought in the Middle East, a theatre where, uniquely, every major belligerent deployed forces. The fighting in the Sinai, Palestine and Syria that took place between 1916 and 1918 has been frequently described as a sideshow, but this usually offhanded dismissal masks the fact that great strategic interests and ambitions were at stake. This paper will examine the strategic situation of the Middle East in 1916 and one of the forces that was created to further British policy, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Dr Jean Bou is an historian and a lecturer at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where his duties include teaching at the Australian Command and Staff College. He is the author, editor or co-editor of several books on Australian military history, including a volume of the Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, The Australian Imperial Force (2016); The AIF in battle (2016); as well as Light horse: a history of Australia’s mounted arm (2010); Australia’s Palestine campaign (2010); Australian peacekeeping: sixty years in the field (2009). He is also the co-author of the forthcoming volume IV of the Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations.

Peter Burness
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
On the Somme with Charles Bean

Charles Bean established his reputation as a war correspondent during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. In the three years from 1916 to 1918 he covered the Australians’ fighting in France and Belgium. Just as the commanders and the troops found the two battle theatres different, so too did Bean. On Gallipoli he moved among the troops and could be close to the action. The following year, at Pozières in France, he experienced the full fury of modern warfare. The scale of the battles on the Western Front meant that he had to adapt his methods. The Western Front saw the emergence of Charles Bean as a war historian.

Peter Burness is a senior historian at the Australian War Memorial where he has worked since 1973. Formerly Head of the Military Heraldry and Technology Section and a senior curator in the Exhibitions Section, he has been involved in the development of numerous permanent, temporary and travelling exhibitions. He has a special interest in the First World War and for almost 20 years led the Memorial’s annual battlefield tours to the Western Front. Peter has published numerous articles on Australians in the Great War, the colonial period, and other conflicts, as well as entries for The Oxford Companion to Australian History, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, and more than 20 entries to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. He wrote four of the volumes of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs series, Australians on the Western Front, and he regularly contributes articles to the Memorial’s military history magazine Wartime. His book, The Nek: A Gallipoli Tragedy, first published in 1996, was republished in 2012. His most recent work is a comprehensive volume based on the Western Front diaries of First World War official correspondent, official historian and founder of the Australian War Memorial, Charles Bean (forthcoming 2017/18). Peter was made a fellow of the Australian War Memorial in August 2015.

Daniel Eisenberg
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Trenches between the frames: Filming the Battle of the Somme

The footage shot by British cinematographers Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell in 1916 contains some of the most iconic scenes of the First World War committed to celluloid. Some of this footage was famously edited together by Charles Urban into the blockbuster British propaganda film The Battle of the Somme, while other material, as guided by Charles Bean’s hand, became the equally important, but less well known film, Australia in France. Both films are kinetic, emotive documentaries that allowed the public back home (both at the time and for many years after) to experience how the Western Front felt, how it looked and how it moved. However, both films have scenes in them that have been staged, have sequences that are not what they initially profess to be and shots that are difficult to pin point in time at all. Both films have also had troubled journeys from the battlefield, through the archives to the present day screen. By deconstructing both films and exploring their creation, their reception and their preservation, the fact, the fiction and the history between the frames can surface.

Daniel Eisenberg is a Curator of Photographs, Film and Sound at the Australian War Memorial and is completing his PhD in film studies at the Australian National University. He is currently conducting research into the Memorial’s First World War film collection. Daniel is also a trained film archivist, projectionist and occasional film reviewer.

Ashley Ekins
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Breaking point: soldiers’ morale, discipline and punishment on the Western Front, 1916

All armies of the First World War confronted the problem of sustaining the morale and combat motivation of soldiers. Modern warfare strained the endurance and will to fight of even the most battle-hardened troops. The experience of Australian soldiers on the Western Front provides a salutary example. In 1916, their initiation into warfare on the Western Front was to prove an arduous test of their fighting resolve as they were rotated through the ‘human grindstone’ of the Somme battles. Australian official historian Charles Bean wrote that these battles so severely affected the morale of the Australian troops that they ‘necessitated a new basis for the discipline of the AIF’. Bean mentioned self-inflicted wounds, desertion to the enemy, and combat refusals, but he was reticent about the details.

Many questions remain about the nature and extent of military crimes, the severity of punishments awarded to Australian soldiers, and their effects on combat performance. This paper will examine the role of military discipline and punishment in maintaining the combat effectiveness of men under fire, drawing on comparative research into the disciplinary records of most national armies of the Great War. As well as challenging cherished notions about Australian exceptionalism, this paper seeks to provide a deeper understanding of a human dimension of the First World War military experience that has been widely misrepresented and mythologised.

Ashley Ekins is Head of the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial. A graduate of the University of Adelaide, he specialises in the history of the First World War and has published widely on the role of Australian soldiers in the Great War. His publications on the First World War include: 1918 Year of Victory: the end of the Great War and the shaping of history (ed., 2010, runner-up for the Templer Medal); War Wounds: medicine and the trauma of conflict (ed. with Elizabeth Stewart, 2011). His most recent book, Gallipoli: a ridge too far (2013, second edition 2015), is a multinational study of the pivotal battles of August 1915, generally regarded as the turning point in the Gallipoli campaign. Ashley is also an authority on Australian military involvement in the Vietnam War. As an author of the Australian official histories, he has written extensively on Australian Army ground operations in Vietnam. He researched and wrote two volumes of the official history: On the Offensive: the Australian Army in the Vietnam War, 1967–1968 (co-authored with the late Dr Ian McNeill, 2003); and Fighting to the Finish: the Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1968–1975 (2012).

Dr Robert T. Foley
King’s College, London
Judgment Day: Erich von Falkenhayn’s Plans for Victory in 1916

In February 1916, the Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, launched an ambitious and unique plan to bring the war to a victorious conclusion in 1916. At the hitherto quiet section of the Western Front around the French fortress of Verdun, Falkenhayn initiated ‘Unternehmen Gericht’ (Operation Judgment), in which he hoped to use a sophisticated blend of tactical and operational means to achieve his strategic goal of a collapse of the French war effort. Underlying Falkenhayn’s entire strategy in the West in 1916 was an attempt to bypass the tactical and operational stalemate of the war by making use of the attritional capabilities of German firepower. In short, he hoped to exploit what he believed to be the French strategic and political weakness – its manpower reserves – by exsanguinating the French army through the effects of German artillery at Verdun. Of course, Falkenhayn was astutely aware of the strategic power of Britain, and his plans for 1916 also included dealing with a potential British offensive to relieve the pressure on France and its army. This paper will explore the origins and the outlines of Falkenhayn’s planning for his offensive at Verdun, as well as the expected British relief offensive.

Dr Robert Foley is Reader in Defence Studies at King’s College London at the UK’s Joint Services Command and Staff College. From summer 2016, he will be head of the Defence Studies Department and Dean of Academic Studies at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. He is the author of numerous studies of the First World War, which have focused on German strategy and operations. His work has been published in journals such as War & Society, War in History, Journal of Military History, Journal of Strategic Studies, and International Affairs. His books include, Alfred von Schlieffen’s Military Writings (London, 2004); German Strategy and the Path to Verdun (Cambridge, 2005); and, with H.B. McCartney, The Somme: An Eyewitness History (London, 2006). He is currently completing The German Army in the First World War for Cambridge University Press.

Dr Aimée Fox-Godden
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
Learning Somme lessons? The impact and influence of the Somme campaign beyond the Western Front, 1916-1917

Though British expeditionary forces fought a number of offensives in the extra- European theatres in 1916, including the battles of Doiran, Monastir, and Ramadi, it was the Somme campaign that dominated the British experience of 1916. For British forces beyond the Western Front, the Somme proved to be of great interest tactically, technologically, and administratively. Using the dissemination of the operational and tactical lessons of the Somme campaign as a lens, this paper will examine the influence of these lessons on the British army’s extra-European theatres, notably Aden, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Salonika. By doing so, it reflects on the relationship between Britain’s operational theatres and to what extent an institutional ‘learning process’ existed within the British army. It analyses how commanders and staffs actively sought out, and adapted or discarded, the lessons that emerged from the Somme campaign, exploring the different methods available to the army and its individuals for disseminating knowledge. This paper necessarily engages with the idea of the ‘learning curve’, yet seeks to revise aspects of this concept in two ways: first, by viewing learning as an institutional and individual process that was not limited to the British Expeditionary Force [BEF] in France; and secondly, by challenging the concept’s outcome-based approach, focusing instead on the organisational process for learning, taking into account the friction associated with the movement of knowledge.

Dr Aimée Fox-Godden is a Teaching Fellow in History of Warfare at the University of Birmingham. From summer 2016, she will take up a Lectureship in Defence Studies at King’s College London at the UK’s Joint Services Command and Staff College. A graduate of the University of Birmingham, she completed her PhD in 2015 with a thesis on innovation and learning in the British army of the First World War with a particular focus on the transfer of knowledge between operational theatres and the use of civilian expertise in a military context. Her research interests include civil-military relations, military administration, and organisational learning. She has held scholarships with the Royal British Legion, the Australian War Memorial, and the University of New South Wales. She is currently completing her first monograph, Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918, for Cambridge University Press.

Rear Admiral James Goldrick AO, CSC (Retd)
The Australian National University, Canberra
The battle of Jutland: Impact and consequences

The Battle of Jutland (or, as known by the Germans, the Battle of the Skaggerak) was the only direct encounter of the main battle fleets of the British and German navies during the First World War. The results were controversial from the start. The Germans claimed a tactical victory, the British a strategic one. Each had some element of truth in their assertion, but both ignored individual and collective failures, as well as the missed opportunities which might have produced a truly decisive result. That Jutland did not produce that result, would have grave consequences for the maritime and economic conflict and thus profound implications for the war on land. This paper assesses the strategic and operational fall-out from the action, as well as the problems of organisation and culture in both navies which had been highlighted during the ferocious, but inconclusive engagements between the two forces.

James Goldrick is a retired Rear Admiral (two star), RAN. He joined the RAN in 1974, and, after completing an Arts degree at UNSW Kensington, graduated from the RAN College at the end of 1978. He commanded HMAS Cessnock and HMAS Sydney (twice), the Australian Surface Task Group and the multinational maritime interception force in the Persian Gulf, the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) (twice), Border Protection Command and the Australian Defence College. He is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales Canberra (ADFA) and the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, as well as a Professorial Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong. He was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University in 2015. He is a member of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal and the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal; and he was a member of the Expert Panel supporting the development of Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper.

James Goldrick was awarded a Doctorate of Letters (honoris causa) by UNSW in 2006. His books include: No Easy Answers: The Development of the Navies of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; Before Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters August 1914-February 1915; and, with Jack McCaffrie, Navies of South-East Asia: A Comparative Study. As well as writing for the United States Naval Institute Proceedings and the British Naval Review, he has contributed to more than 30 other volumes, including The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, The First Sea Lords, The Great Admirals and Britain’s War at Sea, 1914-1918. Amongst other projects, he is currently working on After Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters June 1916-November 1918.

Dr Meleah Hampton
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
“They will rise to the occasion like the heroes they are”: The failure of 1st Anzac Corps on the Somme

On 23 July 1916, the 1st Division of 1st Anzac Corps launched an attack that resulted in the capture of the fortified village of Pozières. Yet, despite this success, over the following six weeks the corps failed to make any material advance and completely failed to capture the German strong point of Mouquet Farm which lay in its path. This paper will examine, why the advance slowed to a crawl, why an obstacle that was barely comparable to the fortified village that had just been captured remained out of reach, and why, heroes or not, the men of 1st Anzac Corps were on a path to destruction from early August 1916.

Dr Meleah Hampton is an historian in the Military History Section of the Australian War Memorial. She is a graduate of the University of Adelaide and completed her PhD with a thesis on the 1916 battles for Pozières and Mouquet Farm. She is a member of the editorial staff of the Memorial’s magazine, Wartime, and while pursuing a range of historical interests, continues to research and write biographies for the Last Post Ceremony project. Her primary interest is in the operational conduct of the First World War on the Western Front. Meleah Hampton is the author of Attack on the Somme: 1st Anzac Corps and the Battle of Pozières Ridge, 1916 (Helion & Company 2016), and a number of book chapters and articles on the conduct of warfare on the Western Front.

Professor Glyn Harper
Massey University, New Zealand
“Life is very cheap here”: The New Zealand Division on the Somme, September- October 1916

The main action of 1916 for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was the battle of the Somme, to which the New Zealanders were committed during its third phase. The battle of the Somme was the first real test for the New Zealand Division. It also proved to be the most costly military engagement ever undertaken by New Zealand soldiers.

The New Zealand Division made its initial assault between High and Delville Woods on 15 September in what was later called the battle of Flers-Courcelette. Two further assaults were made on 25 and 27 September during the battle of Morval.

This paper examines these military actions, explaining what the New Zealanders achieved and why they were so costly. The paper also offers some suggestions about why such a watershed experience is virtually unknown in New Zealand.

Professor Glyn Harper is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He is also Massey’s Team Leader for the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War project and he wrote one of the first volumes. A former teacher, he joined the Australian Army in 1988 and after eight years transferred to the New Zealand Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Glyn was the army’s official historian for the deployment to East Timor and is the author of fourteen books. These include Kippenberger: An Inspired New Zealand Commander; In the Face of the Enemy: The complete history of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand; Dark Journey: Three Key Battles of the Western Front; Images of War: World War One: A Photographic Record of New Zealanders at War 1914-1918; Letters from Gallipoli: New Zealand Soldiers Write Home; The Battles of Monte Cassino. The campaign and its controversies. His most recent book is Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand soldier in the First World War 1914-18. Glyn also enjoys writing books for children. Some of his children’s books include The Donkey Man, My Grandfather’s War and Le Quesnoy. The Town New Zealand Saved. Glyn’s latest book for children, Gladys goes to War, was released in March 2016.

Dr Michael Molkentin
Shellharbour Anglican College, New South Wales
From aircraft to air power: military aviation’s evolution in 1916

All of Europe’s armies took ‘aeroplanes’ with them to war in 1914, yet it was not until the Somme and Verdun campaigns of 1916 that they began employing them according to the theoretical, organisational and operational precepts that underpin modern air power as we now understand it. Beginning the year with collections of aircraft employed in a largely decentralised and ad hoc manner, the British, French and German military, to varying degrees, finished 1916 with fully fledged air services. In the case of the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC), this included a clearly articulated policy of offensive air power, relatively sophisticated tactics for integrating aviation into the land battle, a substantial home defence establishment, and a training and recruitment organisation that had global dimensions.

This paper draws on research in British, German and American archives to demonstrate how military aviation evolved to meet the growing scale and intensity of military operations during 1916. It focuses on the Royal Flying Corps but makes reference to its French and German counterparts, arguing that aviation made an increasingly important contribution to the campaigns fought that year and, in doing so, laid the foundations of modern air power.


Dr Michael Molkentin has a PhD in History from the University of New South Wales Canberra where he is an adjunct lecturer. He also teaches History at Shellharbour Anglican College. Michael is the author of three books, the most recent being Australia and the War in the Air (Oxford University Press, 2014), the first volume in the Oxford University Press Centenary History of Australia and the Great War series. In 2014 Michael was awarded the Australian War Memorial’s Bryan Gandevia Prize for Australian Military History for his doctoral thesis.

Aaron Pegram
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
“In the hands of the Hun”: The German treatment of British POWs on the Western Front, 1916-1918

Over 182,000 British and Dominion soldiers were captured on the Western Front and endured the privations and uncertainties of life in German captivity. On their return to Britain in December 1918, many ex-prisoners gave accounts of neglect and abuse behind the lines in France and on the home front in Germany. Their reports to the authorities and post-war accounts helped affirm the wartime image of the beastly German ‘Hun’ and contributed to shaping later historical interpretations of the realities of life behind barbed wire. But were these reports of neglect and abuse an accurate reflection of German captivity in the First World War? If they were, why and how did so many prisoners survive?

This paper considers a frequently overlooked aspect of combat in the First World War by focusing on the experiences of 3,848 Australians captured on the Western Front. It argues that the German Army’s attitude towards prisoners was not based on a policy of violence and ill-treatment, but was predicated on a principle of reciprocity to ensure the wellbeing of thousands of German prisoners in British and French hands. It also places the hardships endured by prisoners in a much broader context by shedding light on the social, economic and military factors that impacted on Germany’s ability to properly care for the 2.5 million prisoners of war in German hands by October 1918. It will also show that Germany had much to gain by treating prisoners humanely, particularly when they could be cross-examined for intelligence and were relied on as a labour force.

Aaron Pegram is a senior historian in the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial. As well as working on the redevelopment of the Memorial’s new First World War galleries, Aaron has been a tour leader and historical guide for the Memorial’s Western Front battlefield tours. He has published on the First World War and other areas of military history in a number of publications, including Wartime, The Journal of the Western Front Association and the Journal of First World War Studies. He is the editor of William Cull’s record of captivity, Both Sides of the Wire: the Memoir of an Australian officer captured in the Great War (Allen & Unwin, 2011) and Beyond Surrender: Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century, with Joan Beaumont and Lachlan Grant (Melbourne University Press, 2015). Aaron has appeared as an authority on the First World War in a number of television documentary series, such as Who Do You Think You Are?, In Their Footsteps, and The Memorial: Beyond the Anzac Legend. He is an Honours graduate from Charles Sturt University, and is currently completing a PhD thesis at the Australian National University on Australian prisoners in Germany during the Great War.

Dr Andy Simpson
Independent historian and author, London
All in it Together: British and Dominion Corps in the Battle of the Somme

It is widely recognised that the Battle of the Somme was perhaps the most significant period of transition for the British and Dominion forces in France during the First World War. In September 1915, four corps, comprised principally of 13 infantry divisions, had taken part in the Battle of Loos, the largest offensive then undertaken by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). But the Somme involved 11 corps and 54 infantry divisions, including the Canadian and I Anzac Corps: almost the entirety of the BEF was involved at some point. For the corps level of command the battle was especially a turning point. It entered a phase of flux after Loos, which by the end of 1916 had been resolved in its favour, corps taking an ever greater part in the planning and execution of operations. It is reasonable to assume that all corps had roughly similar experiences at any given time during the course of the battle, but no comparative study of the British, Canadian and I Anzac Corps has previously been undertaken. This paper represents a consolidation of my earlier research on British corps with a fresh investigation into how the Dominion corps functioned during these operations compared to their British counterparts. Such a comparison should illuminate the differences not only between the British, Canadian and Australian units but also between all corps at different stages of the battle. The Australians took part in July; the Canadian Corps in September and October. And the role of corps had changed significantly over that period.

Dr Andy Simpson is an independent historian who works full-time in Information Technology (IT) in the City of London and lives nearby. He studied for his first degree at Bedford College, University of London; and for his PhD some years later at University College London (UCL), supervised by Professor David French. As well as a number of articles and chapters contributed to edited volumes, he has published Voices from the Trenches: Life and Death on the Western Front (with Tom Donovan, 1993); The Evolution of Victory: British Battles on the Western Front 1914-18 (1995); and Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18 (2006). He is a member of the British Commission for Military History. Currently he is in the early stages of research into a study of how infantry divisions functioned on the Western Front.

Dr Robert Stevenson
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Attrition 1916: the Australian Experience’

Charles Bean’s long accepted national tradition portrays the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a body apart and one that demonstrated innate prowess on the Western Front from its first involvement in the 1916 Somme campaign. Bean, and his imitators, suggest that Australian tactical virtuosity led to the over-commitment of the AIF by the British high command, leading to disproportionately high casualties, which eventually precipitated a recruiting crisis. This paper evaluates the Australian experience in the midpoint year of the war, charting the AIF’s obligations and performance. It suggests that claims of early antipodean pre-eminence are exaggerated and the AIF’s problems stem as much from inexperience, inadequate training and poor manpower planning as to any predilection of British commanders to squander colonial lives.

Dr Robert Stevenson is an historian with the Australian War Memorial and a member of the team preparing the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor. He holds a Master of Arts and a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of New South Wales and his PhD dissertation was awarded the Australian Army History Unit’s 2011 C.E.W. Bean Prize for the best postgraduate thesis on Australian Army history. A revised version of this thesis was published under the title To Win the Battle: The 1st Australian Division in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge, 2013), while his most recent major publication is The War With Germany (Oxford, 2015), a volume of the Centenary History of Australia and the Great War series.

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