Historian wearies of one-sided war

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HISTORY is written by the winners, they say, and expatriate World War I historian Peter Barton is sick of it and plans to say so publicly at the War Memorial on Tuesday, July 1.

He will use the free public lecture to advocate historical research that actually compares our side’s version of events to the mountain of detailed records kept by the enemy, something he says had “simply never happened” before he did it recently.

World War I historian Peter Barton… “You look at the Allied record and the German record and they’re very different; they tell a different story.”
World War I historian Peter Barton… “You look at the Allied record and the German record and they’re very different; they tell a different story.”
“We don’t even look at the German side of things at all and what I’ve found is that Allied narrators and recorders have exaggerated and embellished and estimated to such an extent that it’s not valueless, but it has a greatly diminished value until you corroborate it with the German records,” says Barton, down the line from his UK home.

He says his latest book, which is published on the day of the Canberra lecture, does “something no other book has ever done, and that is to tell a corroborated story” about the battle of Fromelles on the Western Front, in which 5533 Australians were killed in 14 hours. It’s often called the worst day in our military history.

“What we’ve had for a hundred years now is one side of the story. Although the information from the German side exists and can corroborate what the Allies say, no-one has looked at their primary sources, and the Germans tell a very different story to the British and the Australians.”

Barton says his book contains a lot of groundbreaking new information about the fighting at Fromelles showing previous historians got the story wrong in lots of ways.

“For example the Australians did not adhere to their orders, that’s perfectly clear. In one part of the front they ended up with a line which was perpendicular to the one which they were ordered to take up. That’s not in any previous history.”

He says a popular view he once adhered to, that Allied commanders were incompetent, is also wrong.

AIF members in Fromelles trench - 3 survived“[The officers] were not to blame, really. The Germans were to blame. They were just very, very well organised.”

It seems the Germans were better organised in data collection as well and did so more dispassionately. Barton says their “monumental” war archives are far more detailed than anything here or in the UK, allowing him to follow actions such as the battle of Fromelles literally minute by minute.

With the Centenary of World War I already upon us and not going anywhere for the next four years, the historian argues a wholesale revision of its history is “absolutely necessary”.

“I mean, I’ve looked at lots of other actions as well – tiny ones and bigger ones – and none of them seem to conform. You look at the Allied record and the German record and they’re very different; they tell a different story and in order for us to have a better form of truth then we must have this corroborated history. Without it we’re just fumbling around in the dark, really.

“I’ve been a World War I historian for a long time now and looking at the German records just tells me how little I know about it… they change your perceptions of the entire war.

“It’s as if for a century, we haven’t needed the German story, but once you start looking into it you realise how utterly essential it is to our understanding. We’ve got faulty perceptions of the operational side of World War I and it is the operational side that created the personal legacies that everybody commemorates today.”


“The Lost Legions of Fromelles” (Allen & Unwin) by Peter Barton is published on July 1.


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  1. ‘5533 dead in 14 hours’: not so. The word ‘casualties’ describes the numbers absent from the roll when called. It includes the dead, but also the wounded and missing. There were about 1900 dead out of that figure. Bad enough, but no need to give a false impression by inadvertant exaggeration.

  2. The Allied nations are celebrating their great victory over Germany in the Great World War-1 and gloating over their glories ever since with clapping in air with palms of one sided weaving. But all the many million human bodies that gruesomely fell during the great war on either side never knew the truth,being blinded and deafened by the din of campaign. But the human soul seeks and knows the truth and kindles the many kindred minds of historians like Peter Barton to probe dispassionately into events recorded in history keeping the human angle of suffering and destitution during wars as the view of particular interest and enlighten humanity to inculcate circumspection in victory by the winning side and display compassion to the defeated.

  3. I read book called 1914 Germany not guilty .Very enlightening as to the guilt of others starting ww1,something like David Irving and the IHR and their research into who really started to ww2,

  4. 01 Lev Davidovich Brownshtein, aka Trotsky, gave rip-roaring speeches to overflow crowds in Madison Square Gardens, on how he and cohorts were traveling to Petrograd, in order to overthrow the February Kerensky Provisional Government.

    02 On April 3, 1917, Captain Makin of the RN in Halifax, arrested Trotsky, wife, two sons and five fellow travelers off the SS Kristianiafjord and interned T in Amherst, Nova Scotia POW Camp. On board, they had been shadowed by several British Secret Service agents.

    03 On April 29, 1917, all were released and allowed to continue en route to Petrograd. With a reported 10,000 in their pockets; probably from Jakob Schiff, CEO of Kuen Loeb & Co., Wall Street bankers: whose extensive, funding circles referred to the impending Bolshevik Revolution as OUR THING.

    04 The Bolsheviks sued for the Peace of Brest Litovsk. The Kaiser left a garrison and redeployed nearly a million men against the western Allies: hence so many deaths so late in the war.

    05 Major Maclean had founded Canada’s major news magazine Macleans. The Toronto Reference Library guards a copy of June, 1918, of the then monthly editions, in which he wrote an article entitled: Why Did We Let Trotsky Go ?. In it he calls our politicians in Ottawa traitors to our boys in the field.

    06 Indeed who organized their release ???

    07 This is not hidden in some German WW I files, but comes from the extensive files held by the Canadian Archives in Ottawa, of which I have many copies at home. Including the three pages on which he signs himself into Amherst: right thumb print and all.

    08 What else is being withheld from you and for what reasons ???

  5. Another thing I came across in the Canadian Archives, is the fact, that Schiff’s group of Manhattan Bankers funded ca. 2,000 individuals from that area, to travel to Petrograd, in order to assist with the so-called Russian revolution.

    They travelled from the NYC area via train to Chicago, surveilled all the way by the NYC Bomb Squad, a sort of forerunner of the FBI. From there they went to Winnipeg, where the then Dominion Police continued their surveillance.

    Thence, via train, to Vancouver, where they boarded a liner to Yokohama. The liner’s captain was obliged to issue side arms to his crew because of the conduct of these bought revolutionaries, who invaded second and first class decks from steerage.

    Upon his return, said Captain sent quite the report to Ottawa and his company headquarters; also in the Archives.

    Then, again via a sea voyage, to Vladivostok and by train to Petrograd.

    I forget the name of the famous British agent there at the time [ Riley ?] who wrote to London of all these hitherto unknown faces on the streets of Petrograd, comparatively well dressed, with red carnations in their lapels and amply funded, spending their nights in pubs.

    In other words all the trappings of a ” genuine ” popular revolution.

    Kerensky was the only person among his Provisional Government, not arrested by the Bolsheviks. He spent the rest of his life in a luxury apartment on Manhattan’s exorbitantly priced Upper East Side, on 92nd Street. Also paid for by the Bankers for his well-off-Broadway production of the first Act of this pre-planned two Act show ?

    What sort of untreated sewerage were you purposefully taught: and continues to be taught to your kids ?

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