WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed

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Book Review: Flo of the Somme

51Lz9TSXRXL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Flo of the Somme

by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey (Strauss House 2015, ISBN 978 0 9571245 7 8)

This is the third children’s book with a Great War theme produced by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey. It follows the story of stretcher bearer Ray and his dog Flo, who along with a little donkey go out to seek wounded on the High Wood battlefield during the Somme campaign in July 1916. That the book is set in a real framework, in a real time and space, makes it all the more engaging and remarkable.

Flo of the Somme is an absolutely stunning book: beautiful illustrations and a moving story told in a simple, meaningful way. The history of children’s literature tells us that young people are fascinated by stories of animals: and through the pages of this new book they will see the First World War in a very different way. I hope one day that it might inspire them to stand at Crucifix Corner, depicted in the book, look towards the dark mass of High Wood and imagine Flo there with them, and remember the millions of animals who were there because ‘they had no choice’.

Essential reading for young and old; and it will be the old, like me, who will no doubt shed a few tears over its pages.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.

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Book Review: The Leeds Pals

11548Leeds Pals by Laurie Milner

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 9781473841819, 410pp, profusely illustrated, hardback, £30,00)

The Leeds Pals were the 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. Raised in Leeds in September 1914 their long war first took then to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal and from there to the Western Front. On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme, they were annihilated in the attack on Serre. But despite these heavy losses, they later served at Arras in 1917 and in the German offensives of early 1918, ending their war in Flanders. By the end of the war the battalion had suffered over 3,300 casualties.

This superb book was first published in 1991 in the then large format ‘Pals’ series by the Barnsley Chronicle. This new edition is a substantial hardback but still retains the profusion of excellent illustrations as well as a sound, and easily readable text. There are also useful appendices with a nominal roll, casualty lists, names of those taken prisoner and information on gallantry awards. As such it will be of great interest to family historians as well as those fascinated by the story of the Pals in the Great War.

Laurie Milner’s book is a classic account of the men from Yorkshire whose war was two years in the making and ten minutes in the destruction at Serre on that terrible day in 1916, and it also gives us a wider understanding of how a battalion formed like this managed to sustain the whole war. Highly recommended.

The book can be purchased from the Pen & Sword website.

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WW1 DVD Review: The Salient

theSalientTHE SALIENT: 84 min. DVD PAL. 5.1 Surround. Price: €12.50 or £10.00

This is a new film, made in Belgium by MN Films in preparation for the start of the WW1 Centenary in 2014. It is in fact made up of several shorter films covering the period 1914-1917 but they can all be viewed in one stream from the main menu. It is a ‘traditional’ style film in that it is a story told by a narrator, backed up with archive film, stills and some modern re-enactments. There are no contributors but a lot of first hand accounts of the war are woven into the narrative; not just from British but also German and local Belgian sources too. The film has good production values, although the music can somewhat over-dominate the sound levels in some parts of it. I found it a pleasant film to watch, and it will certainly be of interest to the Great War enthusiast.

However, the film does have some shortcomings. Despite being called ‘The Salient’ it never really explains what a salient or what The Salient is: it presumes the viewer knows that. It is also follows what could be described as a modern Belgian approach to WW1, seen clearly in some local museums and on some recent memorials; that the war was a total waste fought by young boys who were callously sent to a pointless and futile death by old men out of touch with the war. That is of course an opinion, but not one that follows current historical thinking or research and harks back to an earlier period of Great War historiography. The chronology of the film is also a little odd. It covers 1914-1917 but really in that time frame only looks at First, Second and Third Ypres. There is very little about the very important mid-1915 to mid-1917 period when The Salient was at its peak, and why nothing on 1918? The first hand accounts were pretty much all drawn from works by Lyn MacDonald, but there was no acknowledgement of that.

This is not a film that will appeal to everyone, and a general audience may find it confusing in places, but it is a heartfelt tribute driven by a personal connection to the Great War.

The DVD can be purchased from the MN Films website.

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Book Review: Visiting The Fallen – Arras North

Arras-North-Book-CoverVisiting The Fallen: Arras North

by Peter Hughes (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 556 7, 319pp, photos, £25.00)

As the author points out in the introduction to this book, Arras is something of a neglected battlefield. It sits within easy reach of the Somme and Ypres, but gets far fewer visitors compared to these areas of the old Western Front. The author, a former police officer who has been visiting the battlefields for over thirty years, hopes to redress this with this as the first of a trilogy of books looking at those buried and commemorated around the city of Arras.

The book is formed of a number of chapters and in each one several cemeteries are examined. These range from small communal cemeteries with only a handful of graves to large burial grounds like Cabaret Rouge with several thousand. The author has broken up the Great War battlefields around Arras into several areas which will form the trilogy of books and this volume looks at locations north/north-east of Arras itself. As such it covers the Vimy Ridge area in some detail and along with it the Canadian contribution to the 1917 battle.

For each cemetery background detail is given, often in some greater depth that the online Commonwealth War Graves Commission entries, which is to be welcomed. The author has picked a number of soldiers per cemetery and then discusses their life and war history. For some cemeteries there are a few such ‘cameos’ but for the larger ones, it can run to dozens. There are some great stories looking at men like Harvey-Kelly, the first RFC pilot to land in France to better known people like war poet Isaac Rosenberg. It really does give a good cross-section of the sort of men who fought and died at Arras in 1917.

This is a very interesting book and one I am sure I will look at often when visiting the cemeteries here, and the entries are all well written and full of detail. But I have to wonder at exactly who it is aimed at? Will the general public really buy three of these volumes to cover Arras? It will interest WW1 specialists and no doubt battlefield guides, but it surprises me that a publisher would publish several of them, when in some respect it is a book of ‘lists’ and not history as such. There is little context here, and I found the arrangement of chapters hard to fathom. The lack of maps is a serious omission in my mind as most people will have no idea where these cemeteries are or how the ones in the different chapters relate to each other. I hope they may think again on that aspect in future volumes as well as index of the names mentions as it is difficult to go back and find entries in some of the larger cemetery descriptions.

Having said that, this sort of publication certainly has its place. It adds a voice to the many white headstones in the silent cities around Arras and will be of benefit to anyone visiting the battlefields in this area. I look forward to future volumes, and perhaps some covering areas beyond Arras too.

The book can be purchased from the Pen & Sword website and the author also has a Visiting The Fallen website.

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Book Review: New Gallipoli Titles

10928A Marine At Gallipoli and on The Western Front by Harry Askin

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 784 4, 248pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

Harry Askin was a 22 year old Sheffield lad when he joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1914 and he then served with them at Gallipoli and on the Western Front with the Royal Naval Division. Later in the war he was commissioned in the RMLI having fought on the Somme, at Arras and then Ypres. This is a very well written account and the chapters on Gallipoli are superb; they describe in some detail conditions on the battlefield and the terrible fighting around Krithia in June/July 1915. One of the best of the ‘new’ memoirs that have been published during the WW1 Centenary.

10981Fatal Charge at Gallipoli (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 902 7, 280pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This is the first of three new excellent Gallipoli books by Australian author John Hamilton. This title tells one of the most iconic Australian stories of the 1915 – the charge of the Light Horse at the Nek, as depicted in the famous film Gallipoli. It is a highly detailed and obviously minutely researched account, which adds much to our knowledge of this part of the Gallipoli campaign.

10984Gallipoli Victoria Cross Hero (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 903 4, 304pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This next title by John Hamilton looks at the story of Lieutenant Hugo Throssell who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery at the Nek and Hill 60 while serving with the 10th Light Horse. Throttles survived the war but had been wounded on several occasions. After the conflict he became vehemently anti-war, and quite outspoken on the subject. The book charts his gradual decline as because of his views he was unable to get work, and was forced to pawn his Victoria Cross for the pathetic sum of 10 shillings. Hugo Throssell committed suicide in 1933; as much a casualty of the war as those who had died beside him in the trenches. This is a really fascinating book and illustrates the price of heroism which men like Throssell had to pay. Highly recommended.

10982Gallipoli Sniper (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 904 1, 255pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This final book from Ian Hamilton tells the story of Billy Sing who was one of the most famous of the Australian Gallipoli snipers. The static nature of trench warfare at ANZAC brought sniping to the fore and Sing, an Australian of Chinese descent, quickly became known as the ‘ANZAC Angel of Death’ because of his skill with the rile. He was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and also fought on the Western Front as a sniper. Having survived the war he died in poverty in 1943, a forgotten man and his grave went unmarked for many years. Again, like the Throssell book, this is a fantastic story and a sad one, showing how men like these struggled to cope when the war was over. Once more, highly recommended and I hope the author will be writing some more books in the near future.


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Book Review: New WW1 Titles From Pen & Sword

10930Dorking In The Great War by Kathryn Atherton

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 9781473825529, 192pp, illustrated, paperback, £12.99)

This is in the Pen & Sword series ‘Your Towns & Cities in the Great War’ which is shaping up to be a useful and interesting series for the WW1 Centenary. This volume covers Dorking in Surrey and takes a chronological approach looking at the war through the different years and then themes within those years. Of particular interest to the casual reader will be the story of Valentine Joe Strudwick whose grave at Ypres is so frequently visited. Elsewhere in the book there is some great material, backed up with excellent illustrations.


105240Isle of Wight In The Great War by M.J.Trow

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 9781783463015, 96pp, illustrated, paperback, £9.99)

Another new volume in the ‘Your Towns & Cities in the Great War’ series this rather slim volume skips through 1914-1918 from the perspective of the Isle of Wight. Stories mainly concentrate on local men who served and died, with some detail of how the war affected the Island but I was surprised not to read about the German internment camp that existed. A good general account but which lacks detail, disappointingly.

105027We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the Great War by Vivien Newman

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78346 225 4, 191pp, illustrated, hardback, £19.99)

This is a really excellent book covering women in the Great War with some good material from chapters about the women who died in service to those who wore khaki and how the losses in the conflict affected mothers, wives and sisters. It is clear a lot of research went into the book and it is not just a trawl of the usual sources as has been the case with some recent books on Women in WW1. The book puts women back on the WW1 map, just as they should be, and ends with the quote from one of the last surviving women veterans, Florence Green, who said ‘I was very proud of my service’. Highly recommended.

10350Liverpool Pals by Graham Maddocks

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47384 512 1, 288pp, illustrated, paperback, £16.99)

One of the earliest articles I remember reading about the Great War was a piece in Battle magazine in the early seventies when Graham Maddocks, the author of this book, wrote about the man who features on the front cover. That was one of the things that first got me on the road to the Somme, and I had the pleasure of meeting Graham many times before he died to thank him for that. This book on the Pals, packed full of stories and photos, was originally published in 1991 and this is an updated version in a new format, which is greatly welcomed as it was one of the best written of the Pals series covering a fascinating unit. Highly recommended.

10986Battle Beneath The Trenches: Cornish Miners of 251 Tunnelling Company RE by Robert J. Johns

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 700 4, 249pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

The war beneath the Western Front was one of the most fascinating of the Great War when both sides tunnelled under the battlefield. This new book explains the war underground as well as specifically looking at the many Cornishmen who served in 251st Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers which was known as the ‘Cornish Miners Battalion’. The book also contains much information on other tunnelling units and biographies of the Cornish miners who died. A fascinating and well written book.

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Book Review: The Battles of French Flanders

11010Battle Lines: The Battles of French Flanders

by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 403 4, 232pp, illustrated, paperback, £14.99)

Readers of this blog will know that I very much like and enjoy the series of WW1 guidebooks by Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland, and there is no exception with this new title.

In this new book they cover another forgotten sector of the Great War, the battlefields in French Flanders from Neuve-Chapelle to Aubers Ridge, Festubert, Fromelles and Loos. In doing so they concentrate very much on events a century ago in 1915 but also dip into other periods of the conflict such as the Australian battle at Fromelles and the Royal Sussex attack at Richebourg, both in 1916. Some introductory chapters help explains some of the basics, while the rest of the book is broken down into twelve chapters each one devoted to a specific area, making it easy to use when travelling around. The book is well illustrated, with good, clear maps and is a joy to read and use. An absolutely essential book to have for exploring this part of the Western Front.


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