WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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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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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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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.


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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.