The recent deaths of our last Great War veterans Henry Allingham [18 July at 113] and Harry Patch [25 July at 111] have brought an age to a close. Millions went off to war and died or were terribly wounded for what?
Our parents were deeply affected by this conflict, my mother always spoke so lovingly about her big brother who died aged 19 in the last few weeks of the war [27 September 1918] in the final assaults on the Hindenburg Line. My mother in law hardly knew her father who was sunk in a Royal Australian Navy submarine in January 1918. Their lives were never the same after that war.
But reading John W. Wheeler-Bennett's Brest Litovsk, The Forgotten Peace, March 1918 a book written in 1938 when Europe faced another terrible conflict has reminded me of what they were fighting for, or rather against.
This is a book about negotiations between evil power hungry megalomaniacs and while it would be far too simplistic to claim that the governments of the Allies and Associated Powers were at that time fairly benevolent [they proved they weren't at Versailles] but they were benign in comparison with the Prussian militarism of the German High Command.
Ludendorff is furious, the All-Highest [the Kaiser] nervous and ill at ease (must there always be these clashes?) ; Hindenburg is awakened and Kuhlmann puts a direct question to him ;
"Why do you particularly want the territories?"
Rumblingly from that giant torso comes the Marshal's solemn answer:
" I need them for the manoeuvring of my left wing in the next war".
The Treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918 and by this agreement Russia lost 34% of her population, 32% of her agricultural land, 85% of her beet sugar lands, 54% of her industrial undertakings, and 89% of her coal mines.
The next day the German newspaper Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung stated that the German Government "has worked only for a peace of understanding and conciliation".