Britain and France in two world wars : truth, myth and by Robert Tombs, Emile Chabal

By Robert Tombs, Emile Chabal

France and Britain, quintessential allies in global wars, take into account and put out of your mind their shared historical past in contrasting methods. The publication will research key episodes within the dating among the 2 international locations, together with the outbreak of struggle in 1914, the battles of the Somme and Verdun, the autumn of France in 1940, Dunkirk, and British involvement within the French Resistance and the 1944 Liberation. The members speak about how the 2 international locations are inclined to put out of your mind what they owe to one another, and feature a distorted view of historical past which nonetheless colors and prejudices their dating this present day, regardless of executive efforts to construct a detailed political and army partnership.

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The low point came on 2 August 1914 when the French Ambassador in London, Paul Cambon – unable to secure the commitment from the Liberal Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey that Britain would come to France’s aid if attacked by Germany, which he believed existed and which Grey was adamant did not – asked ‘whether the word “honour” should not be struck out of the English vocabulary’. Both states at the time had different interpretations of the same narrative. How did this misunderstanding of each other’s policies, strategies and perceptions come about?

As I argued above, coalitions tend by their very nature to be formed to cope with a specific threat and break up when the threat has vanished. This one was no different. For all that, we should not lose sight of the fact that the coalition was successful – unlike its successor in 1940. The relationship between Foch as Generalissimo and Haig as C-in-C BEF had its rocky moments (a saying at GHQ was that Haig had to fight three foes – ‘Boche, Foch and Loygeorges’)10 but must ultimately be judged a success.

In truth, the 10-year genesis of the eventual British commitment to France was marked by controversy, prejudice and cross-cultural misunderstandings on both sides of the Channel. The low point came on 2 August 1914 when the French Ambassador in London, Paul Cambon – unable to secure the commitment from the Liberal Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey that Britain would come to France’s aid if attacked by Germany, which he believed existed and which Grey was adamant did not – asked ‘whether the word “honour” should not be struck out of the English vocabulary’.

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