JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: September 19, 1916 – Duke’s surprisingly accurate prophecy of how long the war will last

John Dilley.
John Dilley.

A remarkably prescient prediction of how long the war would last was recorded in the September 19, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The Duke of Rutland told a meeting of agriculturists in Leicester that the situation for the Allies was ‘no doubt favourable’ but we ‘must not get carried away by the idea it was going to end within the next few months.”

With hindsight, we now know there was still another two years of attrition between Britain and the Germans but conventional wisdom in 1916 was for peace to come sooner rather than later.

But the Duke is not so sure, according to the report. He says there will be a long winter campaign’ and he would not be surprised there was ‘another long winter campaign at the end of next year’.

The report continues: “It was his view that every man who could fight would be wanted for this war and it was a mistake to think the limit of military age would remain at 41 years – it would not.”

The Duke’s reasoning is also prescient, considering the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles which followed the Armistice in November 1918, an agreement many historians claim was almost a stalemate and indirectly led to the disastrous consequences of Hitler’s rise to power and the Second World War.

The report says: “This is not a war in which either side could compromise. They had to give the Germans the worst thrashing a country had ever had; otherwise the peace would be valueless.

“Amongst the faults of the filthy and bestial nation they were fighting was not one of cowardice, so that they might expect the Germans to fight strenuously to the end.”

His remarkable calculations continue with a reference to the eventual peace that would come after the conflict. “This would be nearly as dangerous to England as war. For unless our statesmen had fully understood and considered the vital interests of England when they took part in any peace conference which might be called, it would be a serious matter for the country, for they would be faced by men who were naturally interested in the welfare of their own countries.”

He said our representatives must be chosen for the suitability for the task of looking after the ‘gigantic interests’ of England and stand aside from ‘any questions of political parties’.

There is very little local battlefront news in this week’s edition aside from a report about Private James Tebbutt of Clarence Street, Market Harborough, who is listed as missing.

And there is an interesting advert for Tiz, a remedy for ‘puffed-up, tender perspiring feet, burning corns and chilblains’. Despite the slaughter going on across the Channel there is a cartoon of a very cheery Tommy soaking his feet in a bowl of Tiz to promote the product.

This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100 th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.