John Terraine

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John Alfred Terraine (15 January 1921 – 28 December 2003), though not permanently associated with any academic institution, was a leading British military historian. He is best known for his persistent defence of Douglas Haig and also as the lead screenwriter on the BBC's landmark 1960s documentary The Great War. A quote from one of his books, The Smoke and the Fire, is used by the WJEC as a source for GCSE history coursework.


Terraine was educated at Stamford School and at Keble College, Oxford. After leaving Oxford, in 1943, he joined BBC radio and continued to work for the BBC for 18 years, latterly as its Pacific and South African Programme Organiser.

Among other series, Terraine was associate producer and chief screenwriter of the 1963-64 Great War television series, and co-wrote its sequel, The Lost Peace (1965). After resigning from the BBC in 1961, he worked as a freelance television screenwriter.

Terraine produced 16 books, most of them dealing with aspects of the great European wars of the 20th century and numerous articles and book reviews for The Daily Telegraph. His last book, Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945 was published in 1989.

He was the Founder President of the Western Front Association from 1980 to 1997, after which he became its Patron. One obituarist wrote that for sheer scholarship, the quality and accessibility of his writing and for his debunking of historical myths, Terraine was one of the outstanding military historians of the 20th century.[1]

In 1964, he edited a collection of diaries written by General James Jack during the First World War. They became a bestseller in the United Kingdom.

He was for many years a member of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies; he had been awarded the Institute's Chesney Gold Medal in 1982. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1987.


  • Mons: The Retreat to Victory (1960).
  • Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier (1963).
  • General Jack's Diary (1964).
  • The First World War (1965).
  • The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten (1968, new edition 2013)[2]
  • Trafalgar (1975).
  • The Road to Passchendaele (1977).
  • To Win A War: 1918, the Year of Victory (1978).
  • The Smoke and the Fire (1980).
  • The Right of the Line (1985).
  • Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945 (1989).


  1. ^ "John Terraine: The Independent Obituaries". 2004-01-23. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  2. ^ Terraine, John. The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten. ISBN 1448211301.