The Snow family
Peter Snow heads a TV dynasty second only to the Dimbleby’s. His family also have a deep personal connection with the elite responsible for the disasters of the first world war.
A journalist, author and broadcaster he was ITN’s Diplomatic and Defence Correspondent from 1966 to 1979 and presented BBC’s Newsnight from 1980 to 1997.
His Great-Grandfather was David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister from 1916 until 1922.
His Grandfather was General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow, one of the army leaders who planned and executed the battle of the Somme in which on the first day 1 July 1916, the British army suffered over 57,000 casualties, including more than 19,000 dead.
His historian and broadcaster son Dan is married to the Duke of Westminster’s daughter, Lady Edwina.
The fabulously wealthy Westminster’s are one of the five richest families in the UK, with a combined wealth exceeding that of about 20% of the population of the UK.
Dan Snow the historian
In a fanciful documentary for the BBC about WW1, he revealed the extent of his pride in his family’s role in the war when he opened the narrative with the statement: “Many soldiers enjoyed WW1. If they were lucky they would avoid a big offensive, and much of the time, conditions might be better than at home. For the British, there was meat every day – a rare luxury back home – cigarettes, tea and rum, part of a daily diet of over 4,000 calories. Absentee rates due to sickness, an important barometer of a unit’s morale were, remarkably, hardly above peacetime rates. Many young men enjoyed the guaranteed pay, the intense comradeship, the responsibility and a much greater sexual freedom than in peacetime Britain”.
General Thomas D’Oyly Snow
He described his Great Grandfather as, “a hardened enforcer for QueenVictoria who fought Zulus in South Africa and the Mahdi in Sudan, where he carried a bottle of champagne with him to Khartoum and drank it when his troops had avenged the death of General Gordon, who was killed fighting the Mahdi’s warriors in 1885. He had command of the 4th Division at the start of WW1.
He dismissed the description critical of the British army command “lions led by donkeys” insisting that the Generals had been at the forefront of military innovation.
But his ancestor General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow who experienced the war first hand saw it in very different terms when he wrote: “The higher staffs had had no practice in command, and although they had been well trained in the theory of the writing and issue of orders, they failed in the practice…added to this we all suffered from the fault common to all Englishmen, a fault we did not know we suffered from till war revealed it, a total lack of imagination”.
But Snow’s opinion was that his Great Grandfather had been overly critical of himself and others, attributing failures at the Somme and after to the inexperience of the British gunners and Churchill who had refused to re-supply artillery shells to the front claiming there was no money available.
He expanded his views stating “A revolution in firepower had given the Germans the ability to bring a wall of steel and explosives down on anyone brave enough to attack. Radio was in its infancy. Telephone cables were severed. Messengers were picked off by snipers armed with rifles of undreamed-of power and accuracy. Thousands of miles of newly invented barbed wire posed an intractable problem”.
But Sir Thomas in his memoirs wrote; ‘We lost men on the first night, drowned or smothered. The men had either to stand in water, knee-deep, with every prospect of sinking in deeper still or hang on the side of the trench. Later in the war, we should have overcome the difficulty but at this time the men were overworked in keeping the front trenches in order, and we were all inexperienced. On one occasion one of my staff said to a Corporal of the Engineers, “Now you are an engineer; cannot you devise some method of draining this trench?” to which he replied, “I am afraid, Sir, that I cannot; you see before the war I was a Christmas card maker by trade.”
And the high command did nothing to help. A soldier said: ‘We were not provided with wood wherewith to make trench-boards, and no extra socks or waterproof boots were forthcoming. We were only censured for having so many sick.”
Snow said that his Great Grandfather’s memoirs ended before, “his darkest days of the war”.
But the records state that at the Somme Sir Thomas’ men, “attacked the strongest stretch of German line as a diversion for the main assault, which went into the south and even by the standards of that bloody and futile day, the attack of Snow’s VII Corps was a disaster. For the general had been located at his chateau headquarters, a long way from the carnage of the trenches.”
Adding insult to injury General Snow attempted to shift blame for the carnage away from himself when he wrote to his seniors, “I regret to have to report that the 46th Division in yesterday’s operations showed a lack of offensive spirit.”
This was after the men had fought their way into the German trench system through unbroken barbed wire. And held off numerous counter-attacks until they had run out of ammunition and were forced to use shovels and their bare hands.”
The foregoing is at odds with Snow’s claim that “Many soldiers enjoyed WW1. If they were lucky they would avoid a big offensive, and much of the time, conditions might be better than at home.”
The old imperial warrior in his recollection admitted that soldiers were poorly trained and unsupported by generals who did not know what they were doing since whilst they had the experience of colonial warfare they were totally unprepared for industrialized total war.
Why were they located at chateau’s far from the front line? Why did they try to shift the blame for failure onto the rank and file of the army? In his documentary on WW1, the Dan Snow of 2014 dismissed criticism of the conduct of the generals as unjustified but I prefer the account of his Great Grandfather.