Lions Led By Donkeys
Lions Led By Donkeys
By: jbhthescots@mac.com, Categories: Words & Images, 1 comment

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It’s Remembrance Sunday, and the Cenotaph monument on the east side of George Square, is Glasgow’s tribute to the brave soldiers, sailors and airmen who fell in the First World War and subsequently also other conflicts. It was designed by Sir J J Burnet in 1922 and is flanked by wonderful sculptures of lions by Ernest Gillick – and the monument was unveiled in May 1924 by Field Marshal Earl Haig.

 

It’s fitting then that when Haig unveiled it, he was flanked by the two lions, as it is popularly thought that the British infantry of WWI (the lions) were consistently sent to their deaths in the thousands by their incompetent and out-of-touch – not to mention several hundred miles from the front in some cushy French chateau – generals (the donkeys), who did so to seek glory and honour for themselves.

 

The view of the war of “lions led by donkeys” is largely the product of a 50-year-old stage musical (by Joan Littlewood) and film (the first to be directed by Richard Attenborough) Oh! What A Lovely War, a huge box-office hit that taught Britain to be very wary of generals. It was based on the somewhat tedious book The Donkeys, written by the controversial (he had to be: when he was an MP, he used to send me Christmas cards when I worked for the Labour party in Plymouth!) right-wing military historian/politician/diarist Alan Clark, who was also a full-time professional shit to boot (I’ll leave Dominic Lawson to fill in the blanks by clicking here).

 

Clark attributed the coinage of the phrase to the German soldier Max Hoffmann – but this was never confirmed, and later he more or less hinted that he had made it up; apparently re-inventing an interpretation of the phrase from Francisque Sarcey’s book Paris During The Siege, 1871, when the French troops were defeated by the Prussian.

 

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