UnHerd Elsewhere: Allan Mallinson recalls the state of the West 100 years ago
In a long and gripping piece for the Times last week, Allan Mallinson looks back a hundred years to January 1918 and a Europe saddled with the pain of war. From the ongoing stalemate on the Western Front to civil war in Russia on the Eastern Front, as 1917 drew to a close the future didn’t look bright for Britain and her allies.
“All agreed that 1917 had been a sad offender. All observed that 1918 did not look promising at its birth.” – Edmund Blunden, ‘Undertones of War’
Yet Allan points out that through the looming shade of a seemingly never-ending war, and despite the fresh and bloody memory of Passchendaele, there were some signs even at this stage of change to come – glimmers of hope amid the gloom.
For example, the fall of Ottoman-occupied Jerusalem to General Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force just before Christmas 1917 was called a “Christmas present to the nation” by Lloyd George. Meanwhile, at home the Marquess of Lansdowne was fuelling tensions through his proposals for a negotiated peace:
“We are not going to lose this war, but its prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it”.
In France, the newly appointed 76-year old Prime Minister, Georges Clémenceau, was already living up to his reputation as Le Tigre by announcing his intention to continue waging war. His determination and uncompromising character would prove much needed in the year ahead.
Rich with apocryphal stories and vivid details, Allan waxes lyrical in such a way that it makes the reader feel like they were really there when Allenby dismounted from his horse to pass through the gates of Jerusalem on foot. At the start of 2018, a hundred years on, it is well worth remembering how far we have come. And in an age of seeming uncertainty, with tensions in Europe and instability in the Middle East, it is helpful to recall that things have been worse but there is always a silver lining.