WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed

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The Vosges & Alsace Battlefields: New French Magazines Review

Guest Post by Gwyneth Roberts : www.thebluelinefrontier.wordpress.com

Alsace Great War magazine covers 2014

Two magazines currently on sale in hypermarkets and bookshops in Alsace are very useful for anyone who is considering visiting this beautiful and interesting region to explore the impact of the Great War and the vestiges of warfare in the Vosges.

La Grande Guerre en Alsace (7,50€)

The cover of this magazine shows two brothers shaking hands next to a frontier post near Metz before the Great War. One is wearing a German uniform, the other a French one. This illustrates one of the themes of the magazine:  with a clear focus on Alsace, it looks at the ways in which the traumatic outcome of the Treaty of Frankfurt, 1871, resonated through the world wars of the twentieth century and, as the 14-18 Centenary approaches, how the psychology of the region was affected. It includes some of the issues particular to Alsace and Lorraine, such as the question of nationality, the effects on families of this very specific internal conflict, and the dilemmas faced by Alsaciens-Lorrains who liked the Germanic character which had developed in the region or those who yearned nostalgically for France.

Sections look at life in the trenches, the poet Ernst Stadler who was born in Alsace to German parents, served as German soldier and was killed by a French shell, prisoners and deserters (with a particular reference to Feldgrau-Alsaciens), Alaskan sled dogs, air warfare, civilians, religion at the Front, the post-victory problems of being initially neither German nor French and the predicament of families whose sons had died in German uniform. It’s well illustrated with contemporary photographs and images.

Published in November 2013 by DNA – Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (dna.fr) -number 58 in the series called Les Saisons d’Alsace. (dna.fr)

Web: www.abo-online.fr/saisons-d-alsace-n-58-la-grande-guerre-en-alsace.html

Sentiers de mémoire de la Grande Guerre (7,00€)

The Massif des Vosges is especially interesting because it was the only mountain Front on French soil between 1914 and 1918. The difficulties of logistics, transport, construction of military buildings, managing an infrastructure and maintaining remnants of civilian life alongside the constraints of mountain terrain, altitude and climate were particular to this area.

This magazine is devoted to 31 walks which take in sites connected with the Great War in Alsace, underpinned by the theme of tourisme de mémoire. They include unexpected sites and lesser known places, vestiges and traces of the men’s presence, plus some unexpected museums. Indeed, some places are almost open-air museums themselves. The walks range from 2.5 km to 90 km and vary in difficulty from gentle strolls to serious hiking, for families or for energetic enthusiasts, from Kilomètre Zéro in the south (official inauguration 20.7.2014) to the sentier des casemates in the north. I have done a lot of exploring myself well before this publication appeared and I’m particularly enthusiastic about getting away from the crowded sites. I found some useful suggestions in this magazine.

It starts with some well-illustrated introductory articles and has a useful appendix with lots of exhibitions listed.

Published in May 2014 by DNA – Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (dna.fr) – # 6 in the series called Passion Vosges.

Web: www.abo-online.fr/passion-vosges-memoire-grande-guerre.html
This link is also worth a visit:

14-18 Alsace, le centenaire:


Strasbourg publisher le Nuée Bleu ( a partner of DNA) has some current offerings:

 La bataille des Frontières Vosges 1914-1915 (Jean-Paul Claudel) on promo in bookshops and on their website at 3€ instead of 18€

Les Alsaciens-Lorrains pendant la Grande Guerre (Jean-Noël & Francis Grandhomme)

Web: http://boutique.nueebleue.com/epages/NueeBleue.sf/fr_FR/?ObjectPath=/Shops/NueeBleue


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WW1 Book Review: Latest Titles from Pen & Sword

The Home Front In The Great War by David Bilton (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 177 6, paperback, 256pp, fully illustrated, £14.99)

During the WW1 Centenary it is all too possible for the events on the battlefield to overshadow the Home Front. The Great War in some respects is not a conflict associated with a ‘Home Front’ in the same way WW2 is, and it is forgotten that the first Blitz was in WW1 and there was rationing by 1918. This superb new book covers life in wartime Britain in some depth and is broken into three sections, the first looking at the Home Front chronologically, then outlining a timeline of the war and finally a third section looks at particular aspects of Home Front history from the YMCA to Special Constables and the often forgotten Volunteer Force. This structure works really well and makes it a very accessible book, and the text is excellent and is accompanied by some superb photos, many of which are published for the first time. This is the best single volume I have read on the Home Front in the Great War and it is highly recommended.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

Veteran Volunteer: Memoir of the trenches, tanks & captivity 1914-1919 Edited by Jamie Vans & Peter Widdowson (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 277 3, hardback, 194pp, illustrations, £19.99)

I first came across the author of these memoirs, Frank Vans Agnew MC, when we were making WW1 Tunnels of Death for Channel 5 as we used one of his Messines battle maps in the programme. The diaries follow his war from service in the King Edward’s Horse to his transfer to the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps and later Tank Corps, serving with B Battalion at Messines and Cambrai, where he was taken prisoner. The second half of the book is a fascinating account of life as an officer prisoner of war in Germany. The diaries are well written and very readable and essential reference for anyone interested in the tanks, and there are some great images of the author as well as the tanks he commanded. A superb Great War memoir.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

The Great War Explained by Philip Stevens (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 186 8, paperback, 221pp, illustrated, £12.99)

This book states that it is ‘the essential starting point for all who want to understand the First World War’ and sets it out to be a single volume reference for the major aspects of the conflict aimed at the beginner who wants to understand the Great War. There is a section on why there was a war, and chronological chapters looking at various aspects of the war and its main battles. The appendices cover other areas such as information on the key generals, weapons and ideas on visiting the Western Front today. While I’m not convinced you can condense the Great War into one volume like this there is no doubt this book will be valuable to those conducting genealogical research who want an easy way to look at the wider picture or newcomers to the Great War who want a single volume to start their reading.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

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WW1 Centenary Guest Post: Sarajevo A Century On by Robert Wilton


Lucky shot? Remembering the Sarajevo assassination a century on.

They didn’t know they were going to change the world.

As the handful of Serb conspirators moved, a hundred years ago this week, from village to village through what they considered occupied Bosnia, trying to escape the attentions of the Austro-Hungarian police, their precious pistols and bombs being smuggled in by other trusted hands, obviously they had no idea of the carnage that would follow once they had converged on Sarajevo on June 28th 1914.

As it happens, they did dream of changing the world – as they saw it. 19 year-old Nedeljko Cabrinovic had angered his father by refusing to raise the hated Habsburg flag, and told him that ‘King Petar of Serbia will rule here within a year’. After throwing his bomb at Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s car, swallowing poison and jumping into the Miljacka river, and then finding himself with a scalded throat and standing in six inches of water, Cabrinovic declared to the policemen who demanded his identity: ‘I am a Serbian hero!’

They were kids: teenagers with under-strength cyanide doses, fired up on ideology and dreams of glory by older wiser men who themselves ran no risks on that June morning. (In that sense they foreshadow would-be ideological martyrs of different wars today.) They weren’t well co-ordinated, most of them flunked their chances to kill the Archduke, and that staggering event was only possible with a once-in-a-century coincidence of incompetence and luck.

But the coincidence did happen, and the Archduke’s driver went the wrong way, and stopped to reverse, and for a world-shattering second put the Habsburg heir stationary and a few feet from a Serb patriot with a pistol and a dream of glory. Princip fired, and the clockwork of Great Power pride and fear and calculation and alliance deals and mobilization schedules began irreversibly to tick, and millions of men went to war and those who returned did so to a new world.

How should we commemorate this? Perhaps it’s possible to feel an echo of pride at the soldiers who would go off to fight for something they believed in, or to feel humble at the futile carnage that was all they won. But a hundred years later there can be no glory in that devastation, whatever your nationality; and political attempts to re-wrap the commemoration in the flag seem distasteful and foolish.

(It’s also a bit of a challenge trying to write an historical novel around the outbreak of war: everyone knows what happened, and it’s hard to make anyone look good. The Spider of Sarajevo focuses on the Great Power intrigues in the weeks before the assassination, and the troubled infancy of British intelligence, and while there’s plenty of courage and conspiracy there’s precious little glory.)

Perhaps, as we mark the centenary of the assassination and then the chimes of the July diplomacy and the outbreak of war, we should try to put a little less emotion into it and a little more thought. The strange overstrained political landscape through which those young assassins slipped was the product of European states meddling with societies they did not properly understand, and trying to draw lines on maps for their own convenience. And brave men went to war with dreams born in prejudice and ignorance. It resonates today more powerfully than we might like or think, and we should reflect more thoughtfully on the events of a century ago not because they’re now so far in the past, but because of how much they still have to teach us.


Writer-diplomat Robert Wilton has been working on and in the Balkans for more than a decade. The Spider of Sarajevo, the latest in the series of novels drawing on documents from the secret archive of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey, is published on the centenary of the events it illuminates He’s tweeting the context and countdown for war @ComptrollerGen, and there’s more at www.robertwilton.com


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WW1 Book Review: Armageddon’s Walls

Armageddon’s Walls: British Pillboxes 1914-1918 by Peter Oldham (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 300 3, 286pp, hardbound, £25.00)

The pillboxes of the Great War stand in large numbers across the old battlefields of the Western Front but as they are often tucked up behind modern buildings or seen in isolation in the middle of a field they can very difficult to ‘read’. What were they used for? Who built them and when? That is where this new book comes in. It looks at the background to the construction of and use of concrete structures by the British Army in the Great War and the rest of the book acts as an excellent gazetteer to the pillboxes which still exist in the British sector from Flanders to the Somme. It is packed with illustrations, including some wartime images of the bunkers that still survive, along with useful maps and lots of information. Not exactly a book you would want to read from cover to cover but very useful indeed to have in the car when visiting the battlefields. Highly recommended.

Available from the publisher’s website.


Book Review: New WW1 Guide Books from Pen & Sword

The Retreat From Mons 1914: North by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 038 5, 157pp, paperback, illustrated, £14.99)

Jon Cooksey is editor of Stand To! and Jerry Murland has written several books about the British Army in 1914 and this volume is part of a series the authors have been working on covering largely lesser known battlefields of the Great War. Starting with a brief background to the British Army in 1914, some historical context and visitors information, the bulk of the book covers four main tours looking at different aspects of the Mons battlefields. This takes in the Mons area itself but also the early stage of the Retreat From Mons down to the battlefield at Le Cateau. Text is clear and the book goes into some detail with lots of human interest stories. There are good, clear maps and is well supported by contemporary images as well as colour modern ones. Mons has lacked a good battlefield guide for some time and this certainly fills the gap taking the visitor to some well known sites and also some lesser known ones. A fantastic Mons battlefield guide and essential reading for anyone going to Mons for the Centenary this August.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.

Ypres 1914: Langemarck by Jack Sheldon & Nigel Cave (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78159 199 4, 208pp, paperback, illustrated, £12.99)

The authors have produced a number of Battleground Europe books looking at familiar Great War battlefields from a German perspective based on the research done by Jack Sheldon in German archives and unit histories. This volume looks at Langemarck, a village associated with a great deal of myth when it comes to the German experience of WW1 as the Nazis peddled the myth that the cream of Germany’s youth suffered a futile death here in the First Battle of Ypres. The bulk of this book is history rather than guidebook and nearly 130 pages cover the fighting in some depth with insights from both the British and German perspective. It is well illustrated, with many photos from German sources and thus lesser known. The tour section suggests four battlefield routes which cover areas much wider than Langemarck itself, and again there are good illustrations and maps to accompany this. My only criticism is that I could not find any mention of the symbolism of Langemarck to the next generation, nor any debate about the Lanhemarck - which was odd considering the book is more history than battlefield guide. Having said that it is a useful book for anyone wanting to look at an aspect of First Ypres in depth or visit the battlefields from a different perspective.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.

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WW1 Book Review: The Great War 100

The Great War 100: The First World War In Infographics by Scott Addington (History Press 2014, ISBN 9780752486390, hardbound, £25.00)

Scott Addington is a very active Twitter user and has produced a number of good WW1 and WW2 digital books. This new publication takes his work to a whole new level. He presents the conflict that was the Great War in a very fresh but appealing way by using infographics to retell the story. What are infographics? These are akin to slide images with text which using clever illustration they help explain a point, fact or part of the history of the war. This is a novel approach to WW1 history but all part of Addington’s ‘history for the ordinary person’ approach, which is to be applauded.

This is a really handsome and well produced book with facts on subjects like battles, medals, and weapons, as well as the human cost of the war. Ideal for younger students of the conflict, it also appealed greatly to this old campaigner too! I really enjoyed looking through the wonderful illustrations and seeing what subjects were covered. The facts are clear and well presented and there is a high level of accuracy; although I have to confess I noticed the image for the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) actuality shows a No4 of WW2 vintage and one of the field guns used looked more like an American 105mm than a Big Bertha. Despite this it is highly recommended and I hope the author will consider a similar volume on the Second World War. It is certainly a book any Great War enthusiast will have much pleasure in owning.

The book can be purchased from the publisher History Press.

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Book Review: Where The Poppies Now Grow

Where The Poppies Now Grow by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey (Strauss House Productions 2014, ISBN 978-0-957124585, paperback, £6.99)

Children’s books about conflict have always fascinated me. Books I grew up with often had veiled references to it, often from authors who been in conflict themselves. When my own children were younger I remember the joy of buying Michael Foreman’s War Game about the Great War, and the utterly wonderful The Cats in Krasinski Square about the Holocaust. Both of these had a profound effect not just on me as a parent but also our children, who still cherish and love both books, despite being much older now.

Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey’s book Where The Poppies Now Grow, about two childhood friends who go to war, joins this great collection and it is a very worthy addition indeed. As soon as it arrived I opened it and was captivated by it; the artwork is superb and the story simple, but incredibly moving. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone with young children who you want to have a first book about the Great War.

This centenary period will see many books come and go, and I sincerely hope this title will not be lost among them. Don’t let it be – the book is fabulous. Buy it and your children will never look at poppies in the same way again.

More details on the author’s website and you can buy it from the publisher here.


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