In 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.