WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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Iconic WW1 Fresco Added to New Thiepval Museum

Joe Sacco Fresco [77185]

Construction of a new 400 square metre museum as an extension of the Thiepval Memorial Visitor Centre has been completed which will now see the installation of unique imagery, museum exhibits and multimedia displays.

The opening of the new museum is scheduled for 1 June 2016 and will be a prelude to the Centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, the iconic battle on the 1 July 1916 which was the bloodiest day for the British Army, becoming a symbol of the First World War in Great Britain.

Installed this week will be one of the most prominent and key pieces of the exhibition being a 60 metre long illustrated panorama drawing depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme, as an open imaginary window onto the battlefield on 1 July 1916.

The drawing The Great War, the first day of the Battle of the Somme is the work of Joe Sacco, an artist who lives in the United States, was born on the island of Malta and spent much of his childhood in Australia. It was during his upbringing in Australia that inspired his interest in the First World War hearing stories of the country’s disastrous involvement in the Dardanelles campaign of 1915, which is commemorated each year on ANZAC Day.

Joe Sacco says :

“The First World War had been in my mind for years. I began reading about the Somme, Verdun and became fascinated and horrified by the concept of trench warfare and the idea that so many men lost their lives fighting over such small area of ground. That fascination and horror manifested into the image I have created to depict the first day of the Battle of the Somme.”

The second key piece soon to be installed will be a large scale reproduction of the aeroplane used by Georges Guynemer, a French pilot during the Great War.

This will feature as part of the Heroic Figures aspect of the exhibition. From 1916, the role of aviation in the war increased and with this the emergence of great figures or “sky heroes”.

Further exhibits will include  : accounts and testimonies from missing soldiers of all nationalities giving perspectives of the battle ; display of items from the Historial’s collections, which are archaeological remains left by the war found during the construction process.

The Germans on the Somme  – a specific installation to explain the German experience of the Battles of the Somme ;

The Battles of the Somme ; Mourning and Missing – a comparison of two types of memories ; the massive loss of men in a total, destructive war symbolised by the fate of the Missing and the heroic figures.

The Mass of the Missing – a specific room “Chapel to the Missing” will be dedicated to those soldiers whose names adorn the Thiepval Monument of which there are 72,194 British and South African soldiers who fell and were declared missing on the Somme battlefields between July 1915 and March 1918.

When opened joint tickets will be available for entrance to the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne and the new museum at the Thiepval site.

For more information : www.historial.org ; email : info@historial.org or call : +33 (0) 3 22 83 14 18


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Book Review: Forgotten Battlefields

The word ‘forgotten’ is probably the most over-used of the entire First World War Centenary but there are clearly forgotten aspects of that mighty conflict, and many forgotten battlefields – especially beyond the Somme. Military publishers Pen & Sword are to be congratulated for ensuring that new guidebooks to these areas are being published as well as Somme100 books and there are two new releases out.

10919David Blanchard’s Battleground Europe: Aisne 1918 (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78337 605 6, 280pp, paperback, £14.99) is a unique guidebook to the largely ignored British actions on the Chemin des Dames near Reims in May 1918 when British divisions sent their for a rest after actions on the Somme and Lys in March-April 1918 found themselves under attack for a third time. The author has been researching this for many years and this shows in the depth of knowledge in the book and the many never before seen images and accounts. The tour section is first class with some good leads on what to see and visit, excellent maps and information. Exactly what the centenary should be about: introducing us to areas that many have genuinely never before explored either in print or on the ground. Highly recommended.

11095Andrew Uffindell has written a number of books on the Great War and Napoleonic history, including a really good guidebook to the Marne 1914 battlefields which I used on the ground a while back. This new title The Nivelle Offensive & The Battle of the Aisne 1917 (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78303 034 7, 197pp, £14.99) is an in-depth battlefield guide to the battlefields where the Neville Offensive took place on the Chemin des Dames in 1917, and where the French Army mutinied. The book breaks the battlefield up into sectors from Laffaux in the west to Malmaison and Craonne. The maps and illustrations are excellent, and there is a good mix of history and battlefield information. The section on the first use of tanks by the French is especially interesting. Another great battlefield guide to a neglected aspect of the First World War.

 


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New Verdun Books from Pen & Sword

A century ago the Battle of Verdun was in its second month: a terrible battle, arguably one of the most terrible of the war which saw more than 770,000 and bombardments with unbelievable statistics: a thousand shells per square meter and barrages where nearly 5,000 shells fell every minute. Military publisher Pen & Sword have just published some new titles to co-incide with the centenary.

Ian Sumner’s Images: The French Army At Verdun (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 97801047385 615 8, 121pp, paperback, £14.99) is an excellent overview of the battle from an author with a good track record of books on the French side of the Great War. There are brief chapter introductions but some good photo captions. The photographs themselves are well chosen and show both the French and German side of the battle. The air photos clearly show the destruction the bombardments caused and give an insight into the hell of Verdun: highly recommended.

12487Bob Caruthers is better known as a WW2 author but his new Images of War: The German Army on Campaign 1914-1918 (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 9781473837829, 128pp, paperback, £14.99) offers his expertise on the German Army in the Great War. The book is not just about Verdun, covering the whole war, but it is certainly a theme. The images are drawn from private collections as well as official sources, so many of them are published for the first time. An excellent visual overview of the German Army in WW1.

12097Historian Christina Holstein is one of the foremost experts on Verdun so among this latest offering it is good to see a new guidebook from her: Verdun – The Left Bank (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 703 5, 190pp, paperback, £12.99). This is a really excellent guidebook covering Mort Homme and the Cote 304 area in some detail: the vital left bank is often neglected by historians, let along battlefield visitors. As one would expect with Holstein the work is very well researched, there are good illustrations and excellent maps. A real must for anyone going to Verdun this year.


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Verdun Centenary

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This week will mark the centenary of the Battle of Verdun; the longest, and perhaps arguably one of the most terrible battles of the Great War. From February to December 1916 there were an estimated 770,000 French and German casualties and it became known to the Poilus who fought there as the ‘mincing machine’ or the ‘mill on the Meuse’ in the way it chewed up men, with killing almost on an industrial scale.

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Poilus at Douaumont 1916 (Paul Reed)

The landscape at Verdun also struggled to survive: conservative estimates on the amount of shells fired from the huge quantity of artillery used at Verdun – everything from the French 75mms to the massive German 420mm Big Berthas – state that more than 1,000 shells fell for every square metre of the battlefield. This turned Verdun into a lunar landscape of shell holes; a smashed and tortured landscape still visible beneath the trees of the National Forest today.

The smashed Verdun landscape at Fort Douaumont (Paul Reed)

The smashed Verdun landscape at Fort Douaumont (Paul Reed)

But more than the casualties, and the number of shells fired, is what Verdun came to mean, and still means. After the Great War Verdun was seen as a warning: that warfare on this scale should never happen again. This is what the ossuary at Douaumont was built for: a massive monument with the fragmented remains of those who had died in 1916 on display: look at war does to man, it must never happen again. The memories of Verdun were still fresh in the minds, the subconscious of the French nation when it found itself at war with Nazi Germany a generation later. Blitzkrieg shattered France’s armed forces and those left were faced with the cold, hard truth: fight on and face another Verdun, or capitulate. Even that hero of Verdun was wheeled out to unify France after the German victory: Marshall Philippe Pétain.

Kohl & Mitterrand at Verdun 1984 (©Wolfgang Eilmes/DPA/MAXPPP)

Kohl & Mitterrand at Verdun 1984 (©Wolfgang Eilmes/DPA/MAXPPP)

In the 1980s, at the height of a Cold War almost gone hot, Verdun surfaced once more as a way to bring France and Germany together: Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President François Mitterrand met, hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks at Verdun, even holding hands, during a time when an even more terrible conflict seemingly loomed close. The symbolism was obvious: Verdun was a warning once more.

Verdun today: Mort Homme 2016 (Paul Reed)

Verdun today: Mort Homme 2016 (Paul Reed)

A century on from 1916, Verdun emerges once more in France as the nation’s byword for the Great War. French people are remembering the Poilus of the Great War in a way that has not happened before, with superb projects like 1 Jour 1 Poilu, war memorials are being researched and the generation of the Great War is not some distant part of France’s past. The war touched all of France, and a century later it touches the nation once more: what modern France makes of Verdun today remains to be seen.


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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 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.