History from the mind of the author

I attended a WFA webinar last night regarding the Second Battles of Arras, principally, the bit that occurred on 2 September 1918. It mostly featured Canadian soldiers and is variously reported in three histories. In his lecture, historian, Bill Stewart, presented his version of events, based on war diaries and other extant information.

According to Bill, the main problem with the written histories, is they are wrong. In fact, Bill’s lecture was titled ‘Official history gone wrong’.

It was my second Bill Stewart lecture, having watched him with Tim Cook back in September, and, again, it was excellent. And it was made even better by the fact that we could see snow through Bill’s windows, it being daytime on Vancouver Island, from where he was speaking. In fact, one of the people who asked a question commented on the fact that he was in another part of Vancouver Island and his snow had all gone.

Aside from the weather, Bill explained that 2 September 1918 features in histories written by Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel, Colonel Archer Fortescue Duguid (“more interested in heraldry than history“) and Colonel Gerald William Lingen Nicholson. Actually, the one written by Nicholson, relied heavily on the previous two, so, to some extent, serves to amplify the errors.

As well as referencing the other two books, Nicholson took narrative comments from Andrew McNaughton (photo below) who was the Canadian Corps’ Counter-Battery Staff Officer in 1918. Which is obviously quite good given he was there however, the Nicholson history didn’t come out until 1961, and you wonder how much McNaughton truly remembered. As Bill said: “Beware the seductive tyranny of amenity and novelty.

I’m not going to go into the intricacies of Bill’s lecture but his over-arching argument would appear to be that you can’t always trust military history. For me, it’s a good lesson in the need to verify information rather than taking it on face value, even when it’s from a seemingly reputable source.

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