Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"The only war to be caused by railway timetables"

At about this time of year, when we remember, with due solemnity, the events of 1914-18, it is interesting to note the role of the railways not just during the war, but at the very start of it. And it falls within the scope of this blog to note that the German army, that terrifyingly effective fighting force, were, in fact, commuters. They ended up in the middle of a field in Flanders because they couldn't get to France on their chosen service. Indeed, AJP Taylor has said that the First World War was the only war in history to be caused by railway timetables. Essentially, the Germans hatched a grand scheme to negate the possibility of a war on two fronts by sending troops into Belgium on the train to the West and Russia to the East, but due to overhead line problems (or something) they missed their connection and got stuck in No Man's land (something that will strike a chord with many a hardy commuter who's been sat impotently outside a station for half an hour on a Friday night with no information).

You can imagine the conversation:

Kaiser Wilhelm: "So, if ve get ze 7:15 to Passchendale ve can get ze boys to ze Marne in time to feed ze ducks."

General HindeNberg: "Und maybe ve can get some sort of group discount - an Army Travelcard. Zat vould mean more money for spending on ze guns and ze Horseradish gas."

Kaiser Wilhelm: "It's mustard gas you idiot. Now have you looked at ze timetable for trains to Russia. Ve have to get to Moscow before it gets too cold. Look vot happened to zat midget French bloke."

General Hindenberg: "Kaiser Wilhelm, ve have a problem. Zere are overhead line problems in ze Flanders areas. Ve apoligise for any inconvenience caused but ve vill have to start the greatest conflict mankind has ever known."

Kaiser Wilhelm: "Oh vell, I've lost my photcard anyvay."


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