The King’s Visit

Much has been made over the years of the out-of-touch leadership during the First World War. This is by Jonathan Brown in the i newspaper:

“The king’s arrival at the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the British Expeditionary Force in France was unlike most arrivals there. The road to the fine old walled town of Montreuil where Commander-in Chief Sir Douglas Haig had made his hom and control centre was pockmarked with the ravages of war. At GHQ, behind the swishing poplars at the nearby Chateau de Beaurepaire, George V was greeted by Field-Marshal Haig and President Poincare of France, and set foot in a world that could hardly have been more removed from the horrors of the war.

“One came to GHQ on journeys over the desert of the battlefields where men lived in ditches and pill boxes, muddy, miserable in all things, as to a place wehre the paeantry of war still mainteined its old and dead tradition,” wrote Phillip Gibbs in The Realities of War. Fro Gibbs, a correspondent, the routines of life in GHQ – or the “City of Beautiful Nonense”, as he would late name it – felt like a version of Camelot.

The home the military top brass had created for themselves was “picturesque, romantic and unreal”, he wote. “It was as though men wer paying at war here, while others 60 miles away were fighting and dying in mud and gas-waves and explosive barrages.”

According to Gibbs, writing in 1920, “War at Monteruil was quite a pleasant occupation for elderly generals who liked their littl stroll after lunch and for young regular officers released from the painful necessity of dying for their country who were glad to get a game of tennis down below the walls after strenuous war office work…”

For George V, at GHQ he would have experienced a reassuringly familiar atmosphere of formality, deference and comfort. The most senior officers were festooned with rows of medals earned in the Boer War. In constrast to the trenches, the chaeau offered many distractions: Football, roller-skating and swimming as well as fishing, painting and a cinema.

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