WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


WW1 Book Review: Shell Shocked Britain

104520In the 1980s I interviewed more than 350 Great War veterans. Then it was seventy years since events on the Somme, at Arras or Ypres and the veterans were old men but fit and most lived in their own homes. Some I got to know very well and gradually I began to recognise the signs of men who had seen things most could never even imagine. One I used to visit regularly  opened the door to me with the phrase ‘I fought the Battle of the Somme in my bed again last night’. Another had regular flashbacks while we spoke, would pause and seeing the face of a young man before him, mirroring his own young face seven decades before, would ask me ‘what mob did you fight with chum?’ As so the question of how war service affects people at the time and in later life has always interested me. There have been titles before but this new work by Suzie Grogan takes a fresh and most welcome approach to the subject.

The book takes us on a fascinating journey from the background to shell shock through to how the ideals of what a man should be often contributed to how men broke down under battle fatigue, afraid they would ‘let the side down’. For me of greater interest were the chapters looking at the influence of shell shock on British society beyond the Great War. It exposes just how many broke down in the same that veterans of modern wars have done in recent decades but now the recognition of PTSD has made this more acceptable and less hidden. The work also looks at spiritualism and the rise and popularity of this both during and especially after the war: so the book clearly identifies that ‘shell shock’ was not just about men who served at the front but the psychological effects of loss and trauma manifested itself among civilians though practices like this.

Suzie Grogan’s book is a truly fascinating and most welcome addition to our knowledge of the subject of war neurasthenia and indeed WW1; it is well written, superbly argued and easy to understand. Thoroughly recommended and a most welcome publication casting light on yet another little known or understood aspect of the Great War.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

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Book Review: Between The Coast & The Western Front

9780750958431_3Between The Coast And The Western Front by Sandra Gittins (History Press 2014, ISBN 978 0 7509 5843 1, 96pp, paperback, fully illustrated, £16.99)

The recent flood of books about the Great War have often concentrated on events on the battlefield, in the trenches and shell holes of the Western Front, but life away from the fighting has been greatly neglected. This new title fills this gap nicely with a really superb volume looking at everything from the British Army Supply chain to the medical services and transportation including railways but also barges and the various types of transport used on the road. Chapters examine these subjects in detail and cover the work by units like the Army Service Corps, Royal Engineers, Labour Corps and also the work of women behind the lines.

The book is well illustrated with a fantastic array of images from official sources and also some from private collections, showing aspects of the Great War rarely covered in mainstream books. This was an excellent book I greatly enjoyed and sat down and read in one sitting. An engaging and original title covering little known aspects of the Great War.

The book is available from the History Press website.


New Somme Books from Pen & Sword

Pen & Sword have been busy releasing a lot of Great War titles in recent weeks and this latest batch includes a number relating to the Somme both in 1916 and 1918.

104899The Somme Campaign by Andrew Rawson (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 051 4, 306pp, illustrated, £25.00)

Andrew Rawson is the author of more than twenty books, several of which relate to WW1. He questions the need for yet another Somme book in his introduction but it is clear from the beginning that this is a gem of a title and unlike very few recent books on the battle. It looks at the 1916 Battle of the Somme on a day to day basis and examines in great detail the operations of units on that day. Each day is supported by one or more maps, which show the locations of formations, and there is analysis too which looks at the battle performance of the units as the fighting unfolded. For anyone wishing to follow a relative’s war on the ground this is an essential companion and the book is also a highly valuable source for battlefield guides who want to do their Somme tours justice. This is one of the best Somme books I have read in many years and it is nice to see the author mention that locations like Courcelette, often overlooked by modern visitors to the battlefields, are arguably more important as they were often the seen of protracted fighting. No Somme library is complete without this book and I cannot recommend it enough.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

105138Blood In the Trenches by Captain A. Radcliffe Dunmore (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 783463114, 158pp, £14.99)

This is a reprint of a rare Somme memoir and originally published under the name When The Somme Ran Red in 1918. The author fought in the battle with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the 21st Division. The book begins in the often forgotten period before 1st July and gives a good description of the Somme during the ‘quiet’ period. The author then takes place in the attack on 1st July 1916 between La Boisselle and Fricourt. He survives for the first few weeks until gassed. This is an excellent memoir and surprisingly candid considering it was published right at the end of the war. Impossible to find in its original edition, this is worthy of any Somme enthusiasts bookshelves.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

105561Visiting The Somme & Ypres: Battlefields Made Easy by Gareth Hughes (Pen & Sword 2014,ISBN 978 1 47382 139 2, 168pp, paperback, illustrated, £12.99)

The centenary has led to the publication of many new battlefield guides but this one is a little different in that it is written by an educator and aimed at fellow educators: although it is clear ‘general’ visitors to these areas will find it useful. The first part of the book looks at some general background with notes on how to plan a battlefield tour for a school group. It then looks at some suggested itineraries examine some of the key sites in the area and how these can be useful on school battlefield tours. It then suggests some locations beyond the Somme and Ypres such as Loos and Cambrai. The book is well written and packed with useful information and some good supporting images. Any teacher thinking of running their own or who is perhaps going on the WW1 Centenary Schools programme would find this very useful.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

104528Retreat And Rearguard Somme 1918 by Jerry Murland (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78159 267 0, 238pp, illustrated, £25.00)

Jerry Murland has made a name for himself with a series of ‘Retreat And Rearguard’ books and those looking at lesser known battlefields of the Great War. His work is always well researched and written. This is no exception and looks at the fighting on the Somme front in March 1918 in Gough’s Fifth Army sector from St Quentin back to the Crozat and Somme canals, and indeed beyond. This is a well constructed account, one of the best I have read on March 1918 since Middlebrook’s classic account, and it is well supported with material from a number of sources, including the National Archives. In this year of Great War books appearing almost every second I fear superb titles like this will get easily missed but I hope not as it deserves a wide audience.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

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New WW1 Books From Amberley

Amberley Books are proving to be a prolific publisher during the WW1 Centenary and their latest batch of titles include the following.

477209808397Fighting Fit 1914 Edited by Adam Culling (Amberley 2014, ISBN 978 1 4456 3759 4, 318pp, paperback, £9.99)

This is an unusual book in that it is a reprint of extracts from several contemporary physical training manuals, collated by the Royal Army Physical Training Corps museum curator. It includes the manual for bayonet fighting which is fascinating and brings to mind Siegfried Sassoon’s account of bayonet training in 1915. The section on unarmed combat was also an eye-opener as it is not something generally associated with the Great War soldier. A fascinating insight into a lesser known side of the war.

The book is available from the Amberley website.

603743595489First World War Curiosities by Terry Breveraton (Amberley 2014, ISBN 978 1 4456 3341 1,319pp, paperback, £9.99)

Another unusual book from Amberley that is a sort of compendium of Great War facts, some of them well known, some obscure and some very odd! The book is packed with over 300 pages of all sort of information and while it is not a title you could read from cover to cover; it is great to dip into. Because it covers such a wide brief it is really hard to say what the book is but certainly a very different title and I suspect a good Christmas gift for the WW1 enthusiast.

The book is available from the Amberley website.

105987485092The First World War In Photographs: 1915 by John Christopher & Campbell McCutcheon (Amberley 2014,ISBN 978 1 4456 2205 7, 160pp, fully illustrated, paperback, £15.99)

For a series of photographic histories of the war following it year by year these books have to offer a good range of images, some perhaps rarely seen, and they have to stay focussed on the year in question. I reviewed a 1914 title in this series and enjoyed it but was dismayed from the start with this one which features a cover illustration showing three men of the American Expeditionary Force wearing gas masks: the AEF did not exist until 1917 and the image is from much later in the way. The next image on the contents page also shows AEF officers wearing gas masks introduced in 1916 and wearing steel helmets. Not a great start. The book then follows a month by month theme and there are many great inclusions and interesting information but I have to confess it was spoilt by the initial images and many others included which do not date from 1915. I also did not understand why photos of Gallipoli were included under March 1915 when the landings there began in April. Disappointing.

The book is available from the Amberley website.

260899850615Blighty’s Railways: Britain’s Railways in the First World War by Alexander J. Mullay (Amberley 2014, ISBN 978 1 4456 3857 1, 160pp. illustrated, £17.99)

Having watched Michael Portillo’s recent BBC series on railways in the Great War my interest in the role of railways in the conflict was rekindled so I was pleased to receive this title which has proven to be an interesting and fascinating book accompanied with some superb illustrations. The book looks at the expansion of military railways, the types of engines and equipment used, and focusses on the Somme campaign to illustrate how they were used. Well written, this is a decent study of railways in the war and highly recommended. Essential to understand that 1914-1918 was not all about trenches and much went on beyond the battlefield.

The book is available from the Amberley website.

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New WW1 Local Books From Pen & Sword

Pen & Sword Military have begun a new series of WW1 Centenary books looking at various towns and cities in the Great War. The first two reviewed here relate to Sussex in WW1.

105218Bognor In The Great War by Clifford Mews (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 282 7, 128pp, illustrated, paperback, £9.99)

Bognor was a seaside town on the Sussex coast and was a favourite of royalty including Queen Victoria. Pre-war there was a Bognor Company of the 4th (Territorial) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and the books begins in 1914 with the mobilisation of the town. It then follows the war year by year before it moves on to specific aspects of how the conflict impacted on the town such as the effects of the losses and the aftermath, including the war memorials. It is a well researched and written account, and there are good illustrations throughout.

The book is available on the Pen & Sword website.

104957Hove & Portslade In The Great War by Judy Middleton (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 783303 643 1, 224pp, illustrated, paperback, £12.99)

Hove was a middle class town on the Sussex coast, close to Brighton. This publication has been written by a local librarian using the extensive material the locality collected during and after the conflict, especially on Hove men who died in the war. It looks at themes rather than following a chronology and subjects such as military hospitals and women at war are well covered. The losses among local men are also discussed along with many case studies. Again the book is well illustrated and these are two excellent titles in a growing series which shows much promise.

The book is available on the Pen & Sword website.

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Book Review: First World War For Dummies

513JTiulw1LFirst World War For Dummies by Dr Sean Lang (John Wiley & Sons 2014, ISBN 978 1 118 67999 9, 396pp, illustrated, index, £15.99)

Part of me thinks that any book which has ‘For Dummies’ in the title is something to be avoided but there is no doubting that this series of publications, covering everything from language to computers is highly popular and a brand that many people turn to for an introduction to a subject. So why not the same for the First World War?

And indeed, why not? This particular publication has been produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum and is written by Dr Sean Lang a university lecturer and author of other titles in the series. From the start you have to recognise this is broad-brush history but with moments of clarity and detail, and looking at the structure of the book its twenty-two chapters cover everything from the origins of the war to the big battles on land but does not neglect subjects like the war at sea, women at war and also life on the Home Front. The final section looks at ‘tens’ – ten key generals to ten enlightening places to visit. The generals section is interesting as it does not contain Haig, but Rawlinson and Plumer. The enlightening places section was pleasing to see but sadly full of mistakes; there is no mine crater at the Newfoundland Park as stated and the museum at Verdun is the Memorial not the Historial, that’s at Peronne. But these are just niggles which caught my eye, and were rare in the rest of the book.

The text throughout is ‘chatty’ – remember this is designed to be a gentle introduction for people who are ‘dummies’. But not dumb – and that is the key; there are some good pieces throughout the book and it is well written and thoughtfully structured. For sure ‘old hands’ to the subject of the Great War would find little of interest here but if you wanted a good single volume overview written in an accessible way this is it, and if you are researching WW1 ancestors and want to see the wider picture without going too deeply – again this fits the bill more than adequately. In addition it is well illustrated, with some good schematics and useful maps, and easy to dip in and out of. Much more of a welcome to the WW1 Centenary than I thought it would be.

The book is available from the publishers website.

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Book Review: Stemming The Tide


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.


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