Ulysses Grant McAlexander grew up on his mother’s family farm in McPherson County, Kansas. He applied for an appointment to West Point but was put on a waiting list, so in the fall of 1882 he started at the University of Kansas, but he didn’t complete that school year due to an epidemic on the campus, and his appointment came through so he enrolled at West Point in the class of 1887.
The 150 ft. tall Thiepval Memorial was designed by the renowned British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who produced the entire city plan for New Delhi (built between 1912 and 1930) as well as the iconic Cenotaph Memorial at Whitehall in London.
The Thiepval Memorial took four years to construct and was dedicated in 1932. Unlike many other Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials to the missing, it wasn’t built in a cemetery, but a cemetery was added to the site later, which contains 300 British and 300 French burials.
This morning I commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Big Push on the Somme by listening to a rendition of Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire [https://youtu.be/B28BWhdnfx0]. Perhaps because accounts of such colossal human suffering are likely to dredge up a volatile mixture of emotions, there were second thoughts, but once fully alert and as intellectually detached as a scholar should be, I nevertheless embraced my choice. That sublimely irreverent ditty, now in its umpteenth version, captures the worst day in British military history in a way that disinterested analysis cannot. Never mind that most mainstream historians of the past 40 years have at least partly rehabilitated the song’s villains — the chateau generals and Colonel Blimps so derided by Liddell Hart, Fuller and, of course, Alan Clark, who probably fabricated that “lions led by donkeys” trope in the first place. While we’re at it, let’s also ignore the opposite end of the historiographical spectrum — the seemingly steadfast determination of amateurs and professionals alike to find some unduly transcendent meaning in what so many Tommies simply referred to as “The Great Fuck-up.”