S2, Ep 6 Total War: Simon Heffer (1916)

This poignant episode of Travels Through Time takes us back to 1916, a year of strife and stoicism at the heart of World War One.

The mood across Britain at the end of 1915 was one of disbelief. A war that many had predicted would be over in months was only intensifying. There was stalemate on the Western Front. Newspaper columns were filled with examples of German “frightfulness”, such as the execution of Edith Cavell, and there was growing doubts in Westminster about Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s ability to lead the country.

This was the backdrop to 1916, a year that brought debates over conscription, fears of a general strike and the military fiasco at the Battle of the Somme. The year ended in December with David Lloyd George replacing Asquith in Downing Street and with Britain having embraced entirely the policy of Total War.

In this episode of Travels Through Time, the journalist and historian Simon Heffer guides us through the events of this traumatic year. He shows us a Britain on the brink of crisis, yet still oddly resilient to the trials it faces.

Show notes: 

Scene One: 27 January 1916, Labour Conference in Bristol for the vote on the party’s conscription policy.

Scene Two: 12 July 1916, Belfast. The first news of the Battle of the Somme reaches Belfast on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Scene Three: 5 December 1914, Cynthia Asquith dining with her father in-law the prime minister at 10 Downing Street.

Memento: A Tommy

Staring at God: Britain in the Great War by Simon Heffer is published by Random House books


Presenter: Peter Moore

Guest: Simon Heffer

Producer: Maria Nolan

Titles: Jon O.