WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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WW1 Book Review – Gallipoli in Soldiers’ Words & Photos

 Gallipoli: The Dardenelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs 

by Richard Van Emden & Stephen Chambers 

(Bloomsbury 2015, ISBN 978 1 4088 5615 4, 344pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

This fantastic book, packed with previously unseen images of the campaign in Gallipoli, is not just a photo book, it is a consice and fascinating insight into the events in 1915 packed with first hand accounts of those who were there. The authors are jointly known for their work on the Great War: Chambers the author of numerous battlefield guides to Gallipoli and Van Emden one of our most gifted oral historians of WW1. So they both bring great value to this book, which despite the huge number of previously published works on Gallipoli, brings a fresh perspective to a fascinating and haunting part of the Great War. The photographs themselves are well chosen and highly absorbong: the very rare image of the boats rowing the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach kept me spellbound for quite some time as somewhere in there is my grandfather. And this is what will appeal to many readers: these are extraordinary photographs of ordinary men in the madness of the Gallipoli campaign and as such open a new door to our understanding of events a century ago.

The book is available from the Bloomsbury website.

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Gallipoli Centenary: What Gallipoli Means To Me

Today is the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. There will be a Dawn Service at ANZAC where Australian and New Zealand troops came ashore on 25th April 1915 and perhaps some UK media attention to remember the British troops who landed with the French at Cape Helles.

V Beach, Gallipoli

V Beach, Gallipoli

Gallipoli is part of my earliest known memories connected to the Great War. I grew up on my grandmother’s stories of WW1 and her brother Dan fought at Gallipoli. As a child she used to tell me how after he had been sent home following a wound at Ypres, the family took him to a shop in Colchester to buy him a ‘tropical helmet’ to take with him to the Dardanelles, as she always called it. Not long after he got to Gallipoli he was wounded by a Turkish sniper; shot clean through the elbow while drinking a cup of tea. She used to take my arm and show me where his scar had been.

The Sphinx, ANZAC

The Sphinx, ANZAC

Bringing home a Victor comic one day which had a Gallipoli story in it, my father picked it up and related the story his father had told him about the landings in 1915. I never knew my paternal grandfather and this was one of the first times I ever remember my father talking about him. A boy sailor, he had joined the Navy in the early twentieth century and was serving on HMS Implacable at Gallipoli. He worked as a Leading Stoker in the boiler room and had volunteered to row troops from the ship into shore, just to have a break from his world of darkness, heat and soot. In fact his boat was taken off to bring in some of those from 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach and he recalled the water there running red with the blood of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

When I was a teenager my local cinema showed the Peter Weir film Gallipoli. I must have gone to see it a dozen times and although I now know it was flawed historically, it still rates as a magnificent piece of cinema and made me even more interested in the campaign.

Poppies at Suvla

Poppies at Suvla

When my travels to the Western Front began, my immediate thought was what about Gallipoli? I tried when I was Inter-railing as a student but in the end I didn’t get there until 2000 when I spent a fabulous week staying at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission base camp on the peninsula. Located right on ANZAC, we spent each night on the beach watching the sun come down and the amazing colours as the sun reflected on the cliffs above. All my reading, and all my interviews with Gallipoli veterans which I had the chance to do in the mid-80s, came together on that trip. I stood where my grandfather had been, I saw where my uncle Dan had been wounded by the sniper and saw my great uncle’s name on the Helles Memorial.

Walking Gallipoli

Walking Gallipoli

And ever since I have been going back: revisiting, filming with the BBC and taking battlefield tours. Gallipoli gets under your skin; you never quite forget it: its beauty, its tranquility, its wildlife. A wondrous landscape full of memory but tinged with the sadness of 1915. Having spent so much time there over the years you feel a great kinship with the men of that campaign. When up and down the Western Front I often come across the graves of men who had fought at Gallipoli and spend a few more moments than usual at their grave, thinking of that Gallipoli sun melting into the Aegean sea and wondering if they saw it too.

Hugh Quinn's grave - one I always visit at Gallipoli.

Hugh Quinn’s grave – one I always visit at Gallipoli.

In this centenary year I am not at Gallipoli for ANZAC Day… sadly. But I will be there later in 2015. Once more back with the ‘Men of Gallipoli’, in the gullies and on the shores, and thinking of those words of Gallipoli poet Leon Gellert.

I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees,
A thousand waves I heard; and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore-
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore.

 

14 May 2006 (3)


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New Gallipoli Books from Pen & Sword

This weekend marks the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. On 25th April 1915 Australian, British, French and New Zealand forces landed on the Gallipoli coastline in Turkey in a daring plan to reach Constantinople. Gallipoli quickly turned into a mirror of the Western Front with trenches, barbed wire and stalemate, and cost the Allies more than 250,000 casualties and the Turks at least as many. Pen & Sword have special offers on many Gallipoli titles and these are some of the latest titles reviewed below.

Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: Gallipoli by Simon Fowler
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 368 6, 139pp, illustrations, maps, paperback, £12.99)

This book is part of a series by well known genealogy expert Simon Fowler. Their aim is to help the family historian trace a relative who served in a particular battle or campaign, and give them some wider context to make sense of what they did in that action. This excellent Gallipoli volume starts with an overview of the Gallipoli Campaign, takes some examples of what soldiers did at Gallipoli and then chapters follow which give a lead in how to research those who took part in the fighting here in 1915. The Royal Navy is covered as well as the army, and there is also a chapter on Commonwealth troops. The book ends with some leads on visiting the Gallipoli battlefields. An excellent one-stop volume giving useful context and excellent information on researching your Gallipoli ancestors. Highly recommended.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

Gallipoli by Christopher Pugsley
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 877514 64 7, 400pp, illustrations, maps, paperback, £16.99)

I bought this book when it first came out in 1984 and this new volume is a very welcome reprint of the original. This superb book, written by New Zealand’s leading military historian, tells the story of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) at Gallipoli. The NZEF were part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and all too often people forget ANZAC contained New Zealand troops as well as Australians. The book looks at the raising and training of the NZEF and then follows their experiences in Gallipoli from the landings at ANZAC through to the final battles. The NZEF also fought on the Helles front, where the British and French were, and this is not neglected. This is a finely written account of the Gallipoli campaign and arguably a classic volume on the subject. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in what the NZEF did in 1915.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

The Gallipoli Experience Reconsidered by Peter Liddle
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78340 039 3, 269pp, illustrations, maps, hardback, £25.00)

Author Peter Liddle is one of the leading experts on the Gallipoli campaign and it is refreshing in this centenary year to see a new volume on the subject by him. It is in fact an updated and revised version of his ‘Men of Gallipoli’ which came out in the 1970s and has been out of print for some time. Liddle specialises in individual soldiers stores, having collected together a huge amount of material for an archive that is now held at the University of Leeds. The book is full of these accounts covering every aspect of the campaign, and all the nations involved. Throughout it is illustrated with rare and unseen images. Still a classic forty years after it was first in print, Liddle’s book gives the soldier’s eye view of Gallipoli and stands among the classic accounts of the fighting in 1915. Recommended.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

 


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WW1 Book Review – Before Action: William Noel Hodgson & The 9th Devons

105362Before Action: William Noel Hodgson & The 9th Devons by Charlotte Zeepvat
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78346 375 6,237pp, hardback, illustrations, maps, £19.99)

Devonshire Cemetery on the Somme, which sits beneath the leafy glades of Mansel Copse opposite the village of Mametz, is probably one of the most visited on the battlefields of Picardy. The story of a lost poet and the man who made the plasticine model of the battlefield where he knew he would die, and the fact that the ‘Devonshire Regiment held this trench, they hold it still’ has resonated down the decades ever since Martin Middlebrook included it in his book on the First Day of the Somme in the 1970s. But what do we really know of these men and what happened here in 1916?

This new book is in essence a biography of the lost poet: William Noel Hodgson. The son of a vicar, the book takes us through Noel’s Edwardian childhood in Berwick-upon-Tweed to his education at Durham and later Oxford. Noel Hodgson wanted to write but the war interrupted his hopes and he was commissioned into the 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment. Decorated for bravery at Loos in 1915, he was among the many officers of his regiment to fall in the Somme advance of 1st July 1916 having written a prophetic poem in which he asked God, “help me to die, O Lord”.

But that is not just the scope of this book; it tells a much wider story of the war itself and that eventful moment at Mametz at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Indeed I found the chapter on the attack quite riveting and the best, and most detailed account of the assault ever published. We learn about Duncan Martin, who had made a plasticine model of the battlefield showing where all the positions were, and we discover perhaps that much of what we thought we knew about this part of the Somme perhaps deserves to be challenged.

This was a book I was eagerly awaiting to read and proved not to be disappointing and while the WW1 Centenary has seen a huge number of titles published, this fine book is already in my top ten. A totally absorbing read.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.


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WW1 Book Review: The Retreat From Mons 1914 – South

7716The Retreat From Mons 1914: South by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland
(Pen & Sword Books 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 336 5, 152pp, paperback, illustrations, maps, £14.99)

Authors Cooksey and Murland embarked on a series of battlefield guides for those wishing to visit the Western Front by car, on bike or on foot, in the approach to the WW1 Centenary. This latest offering in their ‘Battle Lines’ series follows on from a previous volume devoted to the 1914 battlefields at Mons, and looks at the battlefields from Etreux to the Marne. In doing so they cover a lot of ground, in some respects many forgotten battlefields of the Great War. Unjustly forgotten because, as the volume demonstrates, there is an awful lot to see in this area.

The book follows the format of previous volumes with useful background information and general battlefield visiting details. It then follows four stages breaking the considerable distance between Etreux and the Marne down into manageable chunks. Throughout the information is clear and text well written, and there are good, colour illustrations and useful maps not too crowded with detail.

This is an excellent guidebook to a neglected area of the Western Front and is highly recommended, as with all the volumes in the series.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.


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WW1 Book Review: Understanding The Somme 1916

9781909384422In the introduction to this book the authors state “This is a battlefield guide with a difference. It is not the usual itinerary of memorials and cemeteries.” It is a shame that this is the opening statement of the book because it is not really true; this book is only barely recognisable as ‘different’ from other Somme guides and it does, essentially, describe memorials and cemeteries while often containing a little more history than the average guide. I hope this statement won’t put some potential readers off as the book does have its merits and is a useful addition to our understanding of the Somme battlefields.

The book begins with a chapter setting the scene, giving some useful context. Fifteen further chapters break the Somme battlefields down into key areas with a lot of, understandable, focus on 1st July 1916 but it also looks at the later fighting and it was pleasing to see a chapter on Flers-Courcelette for example. A typical chapter takes an historical approach, describes the events, often in some detail, and then goes on to discuss cemeteries, memorials and battlefield sites in that key area. The maps which support it are good and there are colour modern photos throughout the book, which is most welcome.

The amount of detail, and it’s use in the field, varies greatly and this reflects badly on the authors’ initial claims as the visitor to the battlefield using this guide will visit many locations mentioned and struggle to find more than a bare mention of it in the book. So is it worth buying and taking with you on a trip to the Somme? Yes indeed; as it supplements a lot of other guidebooks but giving a wider historical context. And this is perhaps its problem; is it a history book or a guide book? In the end it is a little of both, but only a little so perhaps struggles to understand what its true purpose is. But for a true understanding a battle like the Somme no one book can ever help you; any visitor needs to arm themselves with a haversack full and this title should certainly be among them.

The book is available from the Helion Books website.


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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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