How to teach war games

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Is received wisdom about the First World War - that British soldiers were "lions led by donkeys" - accurate? And if not, how should teachers approach the subject?

This is the centre of debate on The TES online staffroom, informed, in part, by a new book that takes a revisionist line on the issue. The famous quotation, which has been attributed to the German general Max Hoffman, is often used to suggest that the British infantry was betrayed by incompetent, uncaring generals during the Great War.

However, the idea has come under sustained fire in recent years, with historians, including Gary Sheffield, of King's College, London, arguing that leadership during the latter war years has been unfairly maligned.

In fact, during the autumn of 1918, Britain fought the greatest series of military victories in its history, Dr Sheffield and others have said. The generals had learned from earlier mistakes and thus deserve credit.

So how, teachers have asked, should the subject be taught?

There seems consensus on The TES staffroom that both views should be presented to pupils. One poster argues that the traditional, populist line - that Haig and his fellow leaders were blundering buffoons - is too easily dismissed.

Another ventures that teachers should incorporate a new book, Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916, by Christopher Duffy, into lessons. This presents a view of the Battle of the Somme from mainly German sources, showing how Britain's enemy suffered strategically in part because of the strength and professionalism of our army.

Join the debate at


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