Royalty and Honour at War and Peace
When the dust, smoke and cordite cleared over no-man’s-land following the infamous Somme Offensive of July-September 1916, the German Commander of the troops facing the British lines sat down and wrote an assessment of what had just occurred. Rows and bloody rows of Tommy pals had been cut down as they went ‘over the top’, their young officers falling in front of them as they went as far as they could towards the German lines and the relentless spitting of machine-gun bullets . . .
On 15 September Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria (1869-1950) recorded in words far from triumphalist: ‘Our losses may be seen on the map with a microscope. Their losses in that far more precious thing – human life – are simply prodigious . . . It saddens us to exact the dreadful toll of suffering and death that is being marked up on the ledger of history, but if the enemy is still minded to possess a few more hectares of blood-sodden soil, I fear they must pay a bitter price’. Although he had been in command of a successful defence he later confided that the Somme had extinguished the last of the pre-war German professional army and that victory was no longer possible.
At the outbreak of war the crown prince’s wife had made a flamboyant public gesture of kissing his sword and declaring she would kiss it again when he brought it back again stained with the blood of his enemies. If Rupprecht was as eager for the glories of war as suggested by this event, professionalism, hard-headed pragmatism and humanitarian sentiments were the defining features of his military career that followed. No toy general, he lured the French into a trap at the battle of Louvain at the outbreak of hostilities and quickly rose to the rank of field marshal. The prince was one of Germany’s most capable commanders. However, for Rupprecht victory could not be at any price as he was guided both by the interests of those under him and by strong Christian humanitarian principles especially