World War Wednesdays Blog #2
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by British military historian Martin Middlebrook at the Canadian War Museum. The lecture was called Up the Line and Back Again and followed the path of a First World War new recruit. It told how infantry soldiers were trained and mobilized to the Western Front, the various stages of treatment and evacuation after having been wounded, and the process of being discharged when no longer fit for military service.
Before I attended the lecture, I had never heard of Mr. Middlebrook, but I now know that he is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, an author of a number of books related to military history (list below), a soldier himself, and a Knight of the Order of the Belgian Crown. Clearly, hearing him speak was a great privilege.
Upon arriving at the museum’s Barney Danson theater, my roommate and fellow history colleague and I were confronted with the usual intimidating feeling of being the youngest ones at a history event. Right away, the elderly man onstage came down to shake our hands and thank us for coming in front of the whole audience. It was a remarkable touch that made us feel appreciated and instantly more comfortable.
As he began talking, I could see right away that Mr. Middlebrook knew his subject very well, having been a tour guide of the war cemeteries in France for many years, and that he was very passionate about what he had to say. I also began to notice something that left me feeling sad. Mr. Middlebrook would often go off on tangents while he was talking and end up diverting from the point and confusing the audience. As you can imagine, he was eaten alive with corrections and “added information” during the question hour. I felt that this was very unfortunate. Here is a man in his eighties who has given his life in research, and has travelled a great distance despite the recent death of his wife to share his information with us for free. We as a group seeking to do the same thing should have been embracing what he had to tell us and chalking his faults up to the inconveniences of age. Perhaps as a young historian I am more naïve to the topic, but I feel that our older historians are an incredibly valuable asset. There should be no room for competitions of knowledge, but everyone’s individual areas should be embraced. There is something to be learned from all people, old or young, and it is people like myself who are trying to be worthy of inheriting the legacy that people like Mr. Middlebrook will be leaving behind. For me, it was an honor to meet Mr. Middlebrook and hear what he had to say, and I’ll try harder from now on to appreciate everything that can be learned from people like him.
Thanks for reading,
Mr. Middlebrook, courtesy of the Ottawa Sun.
Martin Middlebrook Books:
- The First Day on the Somme with much co-operation from John Howlett. (1971)
- The Nuremberg Raid (1973)
- The Kaiser's Battle with much co-operation from Neville Mackinder.(1978)
- The Battle of Hamburg (1980)
- The Peenemünde Raid (1982)
- The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission (1983)
- The Falklands War, 1982 (1985) first published as Operation Corporate
- The Berlin Raids (1988)
- Battleship (with Patrick Mahoney)
- The Bomber Command War Diaries (with the late Chris Everitt)
- The Somme Battlefields (with Mary Middlebrook)
- Arnhem 1944
- Your Country Needs You
- The Fight for the Malvinas
- The North Midlands Territorials Go To War/Captain Staniland's Journey