Recently we’ve been treated to a public spat between education secretary Michael Gove and Sir Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson, about whether the glorious history of ‘our boys’ and their noble sacrifice during World War 1 was being undermined by ‘leftwing teachers and historians’ using Blackadder Goes Fourth, and anti-war spoofs such as the musical Oh What a Lovely War, as examples of WW1 history.
Mr Gove told the Daily Hate Mail, that people's understanding of the war had been overlaid by "misrepresentations" which at worst reflected "an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage. The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles - a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.
"Even to this day there are left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths."
Tony Robinson, who since Baldrick hung up his turnips, has enjoyed a good living making history on TV duller, hit back, claiming Gove was just having a go at teachers. As a leading member of the Labour party, Robinson will also no doubt exhort us to remember the patriotic, honourable, and courageous WW1.
For those of us who choose to dig a bit deeper, who celebrate the mutineers, deserters, the shirkers, draft-dodgers and objectors, the networks of resistance who hid them, the strikers and food rioters, and all the men and women who spoke out against the first world war, we also remember Labour’s part in sending many off to die, in supporting the war effort (with some honourable exceptions). Squeaky Gove and Cunning Tony are two sides to the same coin, really.
The truth is, that the shirking, skiving, squaddie and the incompetent top brass, portrayed in Blackadder, merely skimmed the surface of a host of hidden histories of the trenches. The Xmas truce of 1914, when soldiers of both sides fraternized, played football, in their thousands, in defiance of the spirit of hostility encouraged by the army hierarchy, is a story that has been oft-repeated, since it was too big to cover up. But it has been portrayed as an isolated event.
What has been covered up, is the more complex truth of covert and unspoken co-operation, in many areas of the frontlines, in an attempt to survive, resisting the official pressure for offensive actions, and only fighting when pushed to it.
Some of this story is told in an article from our friends in Bristol Radical History Group.