Changes triggered by year of disappointment and failures

As 1915 began the allied armies in the west considered how they might dislodge the German forces occupying almost the whole of Belgium and a very significant part of the industrial areas of north west France.

However there was no single viewpoint in the corridors of power about how best this might be achieved.

Clearly the enemy had sufficient forces available in the west to make any attempt to break through the opposing frontlines a difficult and costly venture.

For that reason, certain political leaders and military strategists thought that the best policy would be one of containment in the west with an attempt to knock the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) out of the conflict and take on the seemingly more attractive objective of taking out the much weaker part of the central powers alliance – the Austro-Hungarian Empire – thereby securing British interests in the Middle East, including the lines of communication by sea to the Indian Empire and beyond, and providing a secure all-weather route to supply our Russian ally.

Initially it was believed this could be done simply through the application of naval power by the world’s greatest navy.

Unfortunately, as events turned out this would not be achievable, and any chance of extending allied pressure through the Black Sea and the Balkans would prove elusive and ultimately a costly misadventure.

The diversion of resources to that initiative in the Dardanelles would ‘starve’ the forces fighting in the west of resources, where the supreme command remained convinced of the necessity to defeat the principal enemy head on in the ‘cockpit’ of Europe-Flanders.

As we shall see over the coming year of centennial events, the capacity of the British industrial economy to meet the needs of what would become total war became as crucial a factor in the conduct of military operations as the apparent lack of vision or innovative strategy and tactics amongst the High Command.

The part to be played by the great industrial conglomerates, not least the vast engineering works and shipyards of north east England, would be pivotal.

The failure of informal attempts to organise war production would lead on to the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions – a body which came to be the most important in the land under the initial leadership of David Lloyd George before he became prime minister on the resignation of Herbert Asquith.

Both men would make landmark speeches in the north east as what came to be known as the ‘shell scandal’ of May, 1915 unfolded, when British forces in the west (as reported by The Times military correspondent Col Repington) complained of a lack of munitions to defend positions or prosecute attacks.

The achievement of adequate production of munitions would trigger enormous changes in the organisation of the economy and would not be without conflict and the grudging acceptance of unwelcome suspension of long-held practices in the male dominated industries so vital to the expansion of munitions capacity.

The CD Far from Home containing renditions of well-known and newer music and verse associated with the hardships, endurance and fortitude of the ordinary soldier; and reflecting some of ‘Tommy Atkins’ irreverent humour and sarcasm, is still available.

The compilation was arranged and performed by Jed Grimes, a nationally well-known folk singer and artist.

The CD and commemorative book The Response can be obtained from Keel Row Bookshop and online from

The next talk at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields, takes place at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 13, when regular speaker Ian McArdle will present a talk entitled Sarajevo – 1914. No tickets are needed for this event.

The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved.

The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.