I have written my first book, Making Sense of the Great War: Crisis, Englishness, and morale on the Western Front, for Cambridge University Press. In it, I explore the endurance and identity of English infantrymen. This monograph will offer an innovative interpretation of motivation and military morale during the First World War. 

It contributes to literature on how the soldiers ‘made sense of war’ and seeks to reconstruct their experience and agency. It also poses the question of whether the British Army suffered a weakening of purpose and morale following the Battle of Passchendaele (July-November 1917). 

The project offers a significant expansion to extant knowledge and understanding of morale and endurance by exploring new themes, deploying a novel conceptual framework, and engaging with more interdisciplinary literature than often found in historical studies. It draws, in particular, on anthropology, psychology, and sociology to construct a more thorough picture of the interior worlds of combatants. 

Focussing on English infantrymen, it deploys a wide array of ego-documents from the Imperial War Museum, Liddle Collection, and local and regimental museums to explore various dimensions of soldiers’ experience. It also measures and tracks change (and potential break-down) in soldiers’ motivation during the war. 

To begin unpicking these variations in morale, the study focusses on three periods: initial combat in autumn 1914; the Battle of the Somme in the second half of 1916; and the winter of 1917-18, including the onset of the final German offensive in March 1918. 

Building on the literature about discipline and morale, this periodisation is used to argue that soldiers maintained high levels of morale, that often drew on their own innate cognitive resilience, and deflected crisis in 1914 and 1916. In particular, it argues that soldiers invested personal meaning in their war experience. 

Importantly, despite the pressures of the campaigns in these years, soldiers remained confident that they were fighting a just, necessary, and winnable war. Nevertheless, in 1917 and 1918 English soldiers faced a period of crisis, or near breakdown. The months during and immediately following Passchendaele saw a dwindling belief that victorious peace was achievable. Nevertheless, the successful defence against the Kaiserschlacht saw a reconsolidation of morale and refocussed men’s sense of purpose.

Making Sense of the Great War: Crisis, Englishness, and Morale on the Western Front will be published in (or around) December 2023. You can find it on CUP's webpage, on Amazon, or through other vendors.  

Listen to me talk to the Western Front Association about this research.