Requiem for doomed youth
By Paul Ham
Published by William Heinemann
RRP $45.00 in hardcover * ISBN 9781864711448
Officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, but more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, these epic engagements were fought from July to November 1917 and resulted in unimaginable carnage.
Acclaimed historian Paul Ham has produced a masterful account of the “pointless butchery” that was Passchendaele.
The casualty rates suffered by the British and Dominion troops were truly horrific. 271,600 killed, wounded or missing which included 38,000 Australians. German casualties were lower, totalling 217,000. And yet Ham maintains that these “huge casualties were not some epic blunder; they were expected, they were planned for”.
British Field Marshal Douglas Haig launched his Flanders offensive with a stated aim of smashing through the German defences and capturing the Belgian ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, thus impeding German submarines from attacking Allied shipping.
But Ham believes that Haig’s real aim was to wear down the enemy in a battle of “attrition, the point of which was to drain German lifeblood, at a higher cost than to their own ranks”.
This is a sobering book, which confirms that the lives of men in the trenches were totally expendable. How sad it is to think that the young Australian men who died at Passchendaele were considered no more than cannon fodder.