Omer has commented on our recent discussions and I have asked if I may add them in here. So what follows are Omer’s thoughts and responses to our recent discussions of Tolkien and the Great War. Omer wrote:
Yes indeed, many of Garth’s concerns as to the military history of the Great War in general, reflect some of my own research interests; and the information about Tolkien’s service is also elucidating– I have also always felt that Signals/Cryptography must have appealed to Tolkien’s imaginative faculties. For once, a proper placement of a person in the ‘right job’ by the Army!
The ‘subaltern’ in old British regiments prior to 1921-22 was equivalent to the later designation ‘2nd Lieutenant’ the junior-most rung of the commissioned officers’ ladder– we used to have the same ranks, here in the British Indian Army with the difference that until the 1921-22 Army Reforms, natives couldn’t get the King’s Commission, although they could rise to be VCOs (Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers) as many of my own elders did in that First War and even before. As you know, next year, 2014, shall be the centenary of the commencement of WW1 and many countries of the Commonwealth, including the UK and Pakistan/India, shall be organizing functions etc. As part of these the Indian Military Historical Society (IMHS) UK, shall be bringing out a special issue of their journal ”Durbar”, and amongst others from Pakistan and India , they’ve also asked me to give them a short article on my own elders who took part in the Great War, some 13-14 of them were active in this war then– so I can feel and sympathize with those who had family members who also participated.
The point raised in your discussion, about the ‘distance’ of WW 1 from the public vis a vis WW2 is also a significant one– as aircraft and missile technology evolved and became more sophisticated , so did war became more ruthless, involving civilian populations too. ‘Collateral damage’ was not yet a term one heard but WW2 saw for the first time massive bombing of civilian targets, especially during the ‘Blitzkrieg’.
Following our further consideration of the relative safety of civilians in England during WW1, Omer responded:
Yes, mainland Europe would be more open to the sort of horrors and attacks that you mention; whereas England and the British Indian Empire across the seas remained rather more isolated and safe. Even in military terms, despite the scale and damage of WW1 there were no major reforms in the army until 1921-22, and by and large, things went on as before here. This can be judged from the fact that even as late as 1939-40, most of our Indian Cavalry Regiments were still ‘lancers’ i.e. still using horses and lance and swords, as of old. Mechanization came very suddenly in WW 2. A sea change indeed. Socially, however, the various Indian freedom movements began to think about the outcome of the Great War and to press for greater autonomy and even independence, eventually, from colonial rule. Although that was not yet to be, until 1947, one immediate measure that the British Raj took in 1921-22 was to allow Indians to obtain King’s Commissions in the army. In the parts of India that now form Pakistan, this decision had quite an impact as over 60% of the British Indian Army was drawn from here, and a big status change was implied.