Dr John Bourne BA PhD FRHistS
John’s grandfather’s death, in October 1918, as a result of war service at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia, overshadowed the lives of his family. John’s grandmother, Louisa, was a striking personality. Her views on the Great War were uncompromising and they affected everyone in her family, including John. They were encapsulated in her refusal to buy Poppies or to let her children buy them. Louisa’s objection was to the words then found at the centre of a Poppy, ‘Earl Haig Fund’. With these beginnings the development of John’s views on the Great War as he grew up was along familiar lines. The war was pointless. The generals were all stupid. The result was senseless slaughter. They were the common currency of all people who had an opinion on the subject, including – seemingly – all educated people. John Terraine provided the first serious challenge to them. John can still recall the moment when he took Terraine’s Douglas Haig, the Educated Soldier off the shelf of Burslem Public Library and found Terraine’s arguments compelling. The monumental BBC TV series The Great War (1964) pushed John further down the revisionist road. John’s belief in the revisionist case was also greatly strengthened by his first visit to the battlefields of the Western Front, and especially to the Somme battlefields of 1916, in the autumn of 1972. John Bourne taught history at the University of Birmingham from 1979 and did not expect his book Britain and the Great War (1989) to be the last word on the Great War but did expect it to be his last word. The response of the reading public to the book forced him to change academic horses in mid-career and virtually start again as a historian of the British Army in the Great War. John has gone on to write prolifically, including: Britain and the Great War, 1914-18 (1989; 1991; 1994); editing, with Peter Liddle and Ian Whitehead, The Great World War, 1914-45 (two volumes) (2000; 2001); Who’s Who in the First World War (2001). He has also contributed extensively to collaborative works, for example: ‘The British Working Man in Arms’, in Hugh Cecil & Peter H. Liddle, eds., Facing Armageddon. The First World War Experienced (1996; pb. 2003); ‘The First World War’, in Charles Townshend (ed), The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern War (1997; pb 200, 2005); ‘Haig and the Historians', in Brian Bond and Nigel Cave (eds), Haig: A Reappraisal 70 Years On (1999; 2009); ‘British Generals in World War One’, in Gary Sheffield (ed), Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Experience since 1861 (2002); and ‘Charles Monro’, in Ian Beckett and Steven Corvi (eds), Haig’s Generals (2006). More recently his collaboration with Gary Sheffield in their The Haig Diaries: The Diaries of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig came to fruition in 2005, and his next project, with Bob Bushaway, is due in 2012, being the editing of the memoirs of Private Geoffrey Husbands. It is, perhaps, the finest ordinary soldier’s account of the War which has so far emerged and it provides a refreshingly-different view of First World War British Army service not from the viewpoint of a victim but from that of an actor in pursuit of his own destiny. John retired from the University of Birmingham in 2009, but not before founding the Centre for First World War Studies which has gone from strength to strength. John Bourne is an honorary member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, patron of the West Midlands Police Military History Society and Vice President of the WFA. He is also a long-suffering fan of Port Vale football club.