STEMMING THE TIDE. OFFICERS AND LEADERSHIP IN THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE 1914
By Spencer Jones (Helion 2014, ISBN9781909384453, 384 pages 15 b/w photos, 8pp colour maps, £29.95)
A century ago this week the men of the B ritish Expeditionary Force (BEF) went into action for the first time close to the Belgian mining town of Mons. We think we know a lot about the ‘Old Contemptibles’ but what do we really know of the officers who took them into battle in 1914?
This new book, edited by University of Wolverhampton’s Dr Spencer Jones, looks at the crucial question of leadership and officers in the BEF during the 1914 campaign though the work of a diverse collection of Great War academics. The book starts with an examination of the senior level of leadership at GHQ with articles on the CinC Sir John French and the BEF’s “big brain” Sir William Robertson. Command at Corps, Divisional and Brigade level is then discussed. Mark Connelly’s article on Lieutenant-General Grierson, the II Corps commander who died of a heart attack before a shot had been fired, was especially interesting as it casts light on a little known senior officer whose death led to the appointment of Smith-Dorrien and perhaps took II Corps on a different route than if Grierson had survived. I was pleased that Spencer Jones’ piece on one of my heroes, Charles Fitzclarence VC (who as ‘GOC Menin Road’ had shown outstanding leadership during First Ypres), showed clearly that Fitzclarence had made a crucial impact on the outcome of the fighting at Ypres in 1914 and demonstrated that even during the war his key role wasn’t properly recognised until some time after his death. The three chapters on ‘command at the sharp end’ were of particular interest with a good overview of battalion commanders and another on company commanders, and a fascinating piece on despatch riders, which hints at the wider subject of problematic communications in what was a very mobile war in 1914.
Although the book is the work of a number of contributors, it is clear these were carefully chosen; the whole publication reads well and is a testimony to Spencer’s editorship. This is not necessarily a book for the general reader but equally should be of interest to any serious student of the Great War wanting to discover how the training, skill, knowledge and experience of the officer class in 1914 contributed to the outcome of the BEF’s battles in the early months of the conflict. Highly recommended.
The book is available from the Helion & Co website.