Roy­alty and Hon­our at War and Peace

The London Magazine - - FRANK MILLARD -

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

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