WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed

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CWGC: Remember War Dead in the UK

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have launched a new appeal to the British public to remember the dead buried in more than 12,000 locations across the United Kingdom during the 141 days of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. In doing so they have teamed up with British actor, Hugh Dennis, who has a personal interest in the Great War.

The CWGC state on their website:

The CWGC Living Memory Project aims to encourage UK community groups to discover, explore and remember the war grave heritage on their doorstep. The CWGC is looking for 141 UK groups, to hold 141 events, to mark the 141 days of the Somme offensive.

Hugh Dennis, Living Memory ambassador for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “I have a very personal connection with the First World War as both my grandfathers fought at the Western Front. My great uncles also fought and one, my great uncle Frank, died and is commemorated by the CWGC in Gallipoli, Turkey.

“I’d urge everyone to get involved in this initiative so we never forget those who died during the Great War and are buried and commemorated so close to us on the home front.”

The idea is to encourage groups to research and find Somme casualties buried in UK cemeteries and remember them as part of the centenary. CWGC are offering help, resources and some funding as part of the project. Any community group interested in participating in the project can register now by emailing livingmemory@cwgc.org or visiting www.cwgc.org/livingmemory.

This is a really excellent idea and superb project from CWGC and I look forward to reading about some of the results of it during the Somme100 period.


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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.


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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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.

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New WW1 Local Books From Pen & Sword

Pen & Sword Military have begun a new series of WW1 Centenary books looking at various towns and cities in the Great War. The first two reviewed here relate to Sussex in WW1.

105218Bognor In The Great War by Clifford Mews (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 282 7, 128pp, illustrated, paperback, £9.99)

Bognor was a seaside town on the Sussex coast and was a favourite of royalty including Queen Victoria. Pre-war there was a Bognor Company of the 4th (Territorial) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and the books begins in 1914 with the mobilisation of the town. It then follows the war year by year before it moves on to specific aspects of how the conflict impacted on the town such as the effects of the losses and the aftermath, including the war memorials. It is a well researched and written account, and there are good illustrations throughout.

The book is available on the Pen & Sword website.

104957Hove & Portslade In The Great War by Judy Middleton (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 783303 643 1, 224pp, illustrated, paperback, £12.99)

Hove was a middle class town on the Sussex coast, close to Brighton. This publication has been written by a local librarian using the extensive material the locality collected during and after the conflict, especially on Hove men who died in the war. It looks at themes rather than following a chronology and subjects such as military hospitals and women at war are well covered. The losses among local men are also discussed along with many case studies. Again the book is well illustrated and these are two excellent titles in a growing series which shows much promise.

The book is available on the Pen & Sword website.

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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.