First World War Past Paper Qs

January 2010

(a) Study Sources 1, 2 and 3.

How far do the sources suggest that, despite high casualty rates, the British public supported the continuance of the First World War?

Explain your answer, using the evidence of Sources 1, 2 and 3. (20)


(A letter from Lord Lansdowne, former minister in Asquith’s wartime government, published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, on 29 November 1917. The Times newspaper had earlier refused to publish the letter.)

We are slowly but surely killing off the best of the male population of these islands. Can we afford to go on paying the same price for the same sort of gain? We are not going to lose this War, but its prolongation will spell ruin to the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it.


(A letter from Vera Brittain to her brother, dated 24 January 1916. Her fiancé had died from wounds
the previous month. Brittain later joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.)
I do condemn War in theory most strongly, but there are some things worse than War itself and I believe even wholesale murder to be preferable to decay or weakness. When the War in question is a war on all war, all the usual objections are turned on their head.


(From an anonymous letter published in the Morning Post newspaper in August 1916. Originally written in reply to a letter from ‘a Common Soldier’ which had called for peace, it was eventually reproduced as a pamphlet for sale to the public entitled ‘A Mother’s Answer to a Common Soldier’.)

To the man who pathetically calls himself a ‘common soldier’, may I say that we women will tolerate no such cry as “Peace! Peace!”. The blood of the dead and the dying will not cry out to us in vain. We women pass on the human ammunition of our sons to fill up the gaps, so that when the ‘common soldier’ looks back before going over the top he may see women of the British race on his heels, reliable, dependent, uncomplaining.

June 2010

(b) (ii) Use Sources 7, 8 and 9 and your own knowledge.

Do you agree with the view that the Great War resulted in ‘a revolution in the art of warfare for the British Army’ (Source 8, line 46)?
Explain your answer, using Sources 7, 8 and 9 and your own knowledge. (40)


(From the memoirs of Captain D. Kelly, published in 1930. Kelly had fought on the Somme in 1916 and here he describes an attack near Amiens on 1 September 1918.)

The attack gave a striking proof of the enormous advance made by the new British Army in the technique of warfare, for it was a masterpiece achieved with one tenth of the casualties it would have cost us in 1916. The artillery fired numerous intermittent bombardments, and their support at zero hour was arranged to appear merely a repetition of one of these. It did not indicate the time or direction of the attack. Under cover of darkness the enemy’s defences were taken, the whole affair being a complete surprise.


(From Gordon Corrigan, Mud, Blood and Poppycock, published 2003)

Far from being simply a series of mindless frontal assaults by massed infantry, the Great War (1914–18) was in reality a revolution in the art of warfare for the British Army. There were huge advances in technology. Tanks, mechanical transport, indirect fire by artillery, trench mortars, gas, portable machine-guns – all owe their development to the war. All these innovations were seized on and developed by the very generals who are supposed to have been so resistant to change.


(From John Laffin, British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One, published 1988)

For several reasons it is surprising that the British Army, of all armies, was not the most advanced and eager in new tactical ideas. The British Army had an ongoing history of small wars in which mobility was emphasised. The British were also furthest ahead in tank development. This should have done much to bring about tactical change. However, dull, inflexible senior officers stood firmly in the way of real change. The many lessons learnt at the Front either did not get back to the various senior Staffs or were not acted upon.

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