WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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International Blacksmithing Event Ypres 2016

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A fascinating WW1 Centenary event is scheduled to take place at Ypres in Belgium on 1st-6th September 2016 involving blacksmiths from around the world. The website of the event explains:

In September 2016, a new World War 1 Cenotaph will be created at the Grote Markt, in front of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium. The Cenotaph will be located adjacant to the German War Cemetery at Langemarck-Poelkapelle.

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The Cenotaph will commemorate everyone involved in the conflict, both military and civilian on all sides – all those who died, all those wounded, all those displaced – and of equal importance, their families and their communities. In the War of 1914 -1918 blacksmiths and farriers were indispensable in sustaining the war effort on all sides. In September 2016, hundreds of blacksmiths from around the world will come together in Ypres to remember all those affected by the war and to create in one week, a Cenotaph based on the internationally recognised icon, the Flanders Field Poppy. This will make a unique contribution to the many commemorative sites and structures on the Western Front, serving to commemorate all involved in and affected by the conflict.

This is a great idea and diverse projects like this are exactly what the WW1 Centenary should be about. More on the project website: www.ypres2016.com

 


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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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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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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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Book Review: New Edition of Holts Battlefield Guides

Major and Mrs Holt have spent much of the past thirty years building a reputation as battlefield experts first with their battlefield tours and since they left that company, in the form of their guidebooks and maps. As the centenary of the Great war begins two new editions of their guidebooks have just been published.

Western Front North (Pen & Sword Military 2014, ISBN 978 178159 397 4, 367pp, fully illustrated, £16.99)

This is part of a two-volume set covering most of the Western Front from the Belgian coast to beyond Verdun, splitting the battlefields between ‘North’ and ‘South’. This North volume covers Flanders down as far as Arras but also Mons and Le Cateau and some of the final battlefield areas of November 1918. The book begins with sections on practical information and how to use the guidebook and then follows a series of chapters covering the battles from Mons to the fighting in Flanders. Each of these chapters has one or more battlefield tour of the related areas and while there is some cross-over, for example with Aubers Ridge and Fromelles, generally this works well. The text of the guidebook is well written, as one would expect with the Holts, and there is sufficient detail for each location. The maps within the book are clear and relate to the text, and the images throughout are modern day colour illustrations which help visualise the guidebook.

While not everything in these battlefield areas is covered in this guidebook – when is it ever, in any such guide? – this is a good overall study of what is largely a neglected area of the Western Front and as such is recommended for anyone considering a trip to the ‘forgotten front’. My only criticism would be is that I would have liked to see less on Ypres, which the authors have covered in the volume below, and more on the other sectors but as this is a guidebook to the whole front from Nieuport to Arras, it did need some coverage of Wipers.

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

Ypres: Salient & Passchendaele (Pen & Sword reprinted edition 2014, ISBN 978n0 85052 551 9, 288pp, fully illustrated, bundled with a full-colour map, £16.99)

This is not a new 2014 edition of this guidebook but a reprint of one compiled a few years ago, and in that respect it is a shame as some of the detail contained in this edition is now out of date or incorrect, given the changes in the last eighteen months leading up to the WW1 Centenary.

Having said that this is still a very useful guidebook to the battlefields around Ypres and covers a wide area in some depth, and also includes a full colour A2 map showing all the locations mentioned, battle lines and other information. As with all the Holts guidebooks it is fully illustrated in colour and easy to use and digest.

The book itself is divided up into several sections: approaches to Ypres, and what there is to see en-route, and then three main itineraries around the Salient covering all the key battle sites. There are other chapters with suggested visits up to the Flanders coast where the Western Front ended near Nieuport as well as a focus on the mine craters along the Messines Ridge. Overall an excellent Ypres guidebook and well worth packing on any visit to Flanders, and I look forward to a Centenary update in due course.

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


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BBC Our World War: Review of Ep1 – Mons

Having read a lot of negative press in the Great war Community about the BBC3 series Our World War, even before it was broadcast and no-one had seen it, I was very interested to finally watch it. With rumours of indie pop, odd camera angles and ‘Call of Duty’ style graphics I had feared the worst but actually… I really rather enjoyed it. In fact second only to the superb ‘The Somme: From Defeat To Victory‘ this is a very fine piece of docudrama from the BBC and a fitting addition to their WW1 Centenary season.

The film is sixty minutes of television and does raise a lot of points; I don’t intend to discuss them all here but I will make a few.

The Filming: this I thought was one of the things that made it for me. Far from odd camera angles the use of cameras giving different perspectives was very effective and much like ‘helmet cams’ as seen in Afghan war documentaries in recent years; I suspect that was the inspiration for this and in my opinion it worked. The graded colour was also a clever touch and gave the film a ‘dirty’ look, which again I think added to the structure of the film. The ‘Call of Duty’ style aerial graphics were clever too and well used; and will be recognisable and understandable to a generation looking at a WW1 docudrama perhaps for the first time. All of this made it a powerful film indeed.

The Music: yep, it was indie pop (rather nice to hear some PJ Harvey, who actually put out an album inspired by WW1 btw). Was it suitable? That will be up to personal taste but I think it certainly fitted in to the ‘modern’ approach the film makers took. The film was raw and so was the music.

The Sets: this aspect of it did not always work for me. The bridge at Nimy was a fair copy of the one there today but nothing like the low stone parapet railway bridge that was actually defended by the 4th Royal Fusiliers in August 1914. I know a little of this as I was contacted by the programme makers who were desperate to find some vaguely suitable bridge in the UK to film it. Unfortunately I couldn’t help and the one they did end up using, in a wooded setting with no buildings, was nothing like Nimy 1914 but I don’t think detracted too much from the drama, even if it did from the history. The Head Quarters the runner went back and forth to was the most disappointing of the sets as it looked far too ‘English’; I presume it was probably filmed at Chatham Dockyard? But even with this drama I think budgets were limited and for a general audience it would have worked, and few would have noticed.

Uniforms: for many who watch programmes like these misdemeanours in the costume department do get people hot under the collar. There were a few here, but only a few, and things that most would not notice. Did the officers of 4th Royal Fusiliers really wear Other Ranks shoulder titles on their tunics; probably not? Dease was wearing an Imperial Service badge above his right tunic pocket, only worn by Territorials and not regulars like him. Wrist/bracelet style identity disk were not common place in 1914 (Godley is seen wearing one) and I would go as far as saying probably not worn at all by the BEF. Told you these were small points! But otherwise the actors looked at home in their uniforms, they were dirty and well worn, and the soldiers were dirty too with far from perfect appearances and teeth. They really did look like soldiers of the BEF.

The Characters: for a drama this is one of the few that has made Great War soldiers appear as real men. There were not many stereotypes here and the language, with plenty of swear words, was well constructed. Officers and men were more familiar than the army of 1914 would have been, but I suspect this is a modern take on it. I liked the Australian character and at first wondered why he had been used but in fact he was based on a real person Lieutenant (later Captain) Frederick Wilberforce Alexander Steele, an Australian who served with the regiment as the AWM website shows. Whether he would have had a slouch hat and drover’s coat; that is another matter! The runner character I thought was excellent and gave an insight into a side of the Great War few consider; battlefield communications. I also liked the device of showing Godley as an under-performing soldier who came good, as that reflected what often happened in the midst of battle, but I fear there is little evidence of that in the story of the real Godley. Having said all that these were all believable characters and people you quickly got interested in; which is the sign of good, professional drama.

The History: at times good, often very good and occasionally bad, but for me not so bad as to diminish the impact of the whole film. A full rifle company supported by the battalion machine-gun section defended the real Nimy Bridge, but the film made it look like a skirmish at times. Dease was in command of the machine-guns not the company and that part of his relationship to the story was a little confused I felt. As was Godley’s; he was a soldier in a rifle section who had been trained on the Maxim gun and as I thought was the story only stepped in to help when others had been killed and wounded. The Sappers blowing the bridge at Jemappes was weak historically as it looked nothing like urban Jemappes and the constant use of ‘Sir’ for a Sapper addressing a Corporal was odd indeed; and their conversation, body language and actual language when speaking to a Royal Engineers officer earlier in the film way off the mark for 1914. The final comment about Mons being a ‘humiliation’ for the British was unfortunate, and not really explained. It was a shame as no doubt this will spoil it for many.

Yet despite all this the first episode of Our World War was for me a moving insight the British Army’s first engagement of the Great War. What it set out to do was re-tell this part of the war in a modern way, from a modern perspective. And that’s where many will have issue with it. It set the men in the film not as hapless pawns but real characters, real heroes and real soldiers. Ending it with Steele’s original recommendation for the Victoria Cross and the recording of Godley was a brilliant touch.

This was a good start to this series; and we can only hope it continues in the same vein.


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WW1 Book Review: Latest Titles from Pen & Sword

The Home Front In The Great War by David Bilton (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 177 6, paperback, 256pp, fully illustrated, £14.99)

During the WW1 Centenary it is all too possible for the events on the battlefield to overshadow the Home Front. The Great War in some respects is not a conflict associated with a ‘Home Front’ in the same way WW2 is, and it is forgotten that the first Blitz was in WW1 and there was rationing by 1918. This superb new book covers life in wartime Britain in some depth and is broken into three sections, the first looking at the Home Front chronologically, then outlining a timeline of the war and finally a third section looks at particular aspects of Home Front history from the YMCA to Special Constables and the often forgotten Volunteer Force. This structure works really well and makes it a very accessible book, and the text is excellent and is accompanied by some superb photos, many of which are published for the first time. This is the best single volume I have read on the Home Front in the Great War and it is highly recommended.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

Veteran Volunteer: Memoir of the trenches, tanks & captivity 1914-1919 Edited by Jamie Vans & Peter Widdowson (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 277 3, hardback, 194pp, illustrations, £19.99)

I first came across the author of these memoirs, Frank Vans Agnew MC, when we were making WW1 Tunnels of Death for Channel 5 as we used one of his Messines battle maps in the programme. The diaries follow his war from service in the King Edward’s Horse to his transfer to the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps and later Tank Corps, serving with B Battalion at Messines and Cambrai, where he was taken prisoner. The second half of the book is a fascinating account of life as an officer prisoner of war in Germany. The diaries are well written and very readable and essential reference for anyone interested in the tanks, and there are some great images of the author as well as the tanks he commanded. A superb Great War memoir.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

The Great War Explained by Philip Stevens (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 186 8, paperback, 221pp, illustrated, £12.99)

This book states that it is ‘the essential starting point for all who want to understand the First World War’ and sets it out to be a single volume reference for the major aspects of the conflict aimed at the beginner who wants to understand the Great War. There is a section on why there was a war, and chronological chapters looking at various aspects of the war and its main battles. The appendices cover other areas such as information on the key generals, weapons and ideas on visiting the Western Front today. While I’m not convinced you can condense the Great War into one volume like this there is no doubt this book will be valuable to those conducting genealogical research who want an easy way to look at the wider picture or newcomers to the Great War who want a single volume to start their reading.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.