WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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New Arras Books From Pen & Sword

The Battle of Arras is among one of the more neglected Great War battles and campaigns; while the Somme and Flanders have been swamped with publications, the number of books about Arras can be counted on one hand, so it is good to see Pen & Sword release some new titles in the approach to the 2017 centenary.

11580Peter Hughes’ Visiting The Fallen: Arras South (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 558 1, 335pp, hardback, £25.00) is the second volume in his study of the Great War cemeteries around Arras. This volume looks at the south-south-east area of the battlefield taking in the many small battlefield cemeteries in this area, many of which are well off the beaten track. For each cemetery there is normally some background to the burial ground then the author has selected a number of men buried there who are particularly interesting. Using their stories the book essentially retells the Battle of Arras through the men who fell there. It is a very useful book for visiting the ground and while it is more reference than a good read, it is well put together and superbly researched.

11845Peter Hughes’ latest work is to complete the two books on Arras North and South looking at the cemeteries, by devoting this one to the memorials to the missing that cover the area. Visiting The Fallen: Arras Memorials (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 557 4, 262pp, hardback, £25.00) looks are four of the massive memorials to the missing: the Arras Memorial, the Arras Flying Services Memorial, the Vimy Memorial and the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. The background and history of each memorial is explained and then by regiment and corps particular soldiers of interest are listed with their stories. Again, an excellent piece of research with many fascinating stories told for the first time, but I was surprised that the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial was not included as this includes Australian dead from Bullecourt and the early advance to the Hindenburg Line; a curious omission but it does not spoil an otherwise excellent work.

12180It is not often that books on trains in the Great War are published, or indeed that I read them, but Martin J.B. & Joan S. Fairbrother’s Narrow Gauge In The Arras Sector (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 118 2, 274pp, large format hardback, £30.00) is an excellent addition to our knowledge of the war at Arras. The Great War not just about bullets and bayonets, it was a war where the winner was the one who master logistics and the British use of trains was all part of the Allied Victory in 1918. The book looks in detail at the railway structure pre-1914 and then how it was expanded and adapted during the war. It is profusely illustrated with many rare images. The numerous excellent network maps show how extensive the use was by 1918. A fascinating ‘Things To See and Do Now’ chapter is also included which helps the battlefield visitor find some most unusual sites, not normally considered. A most unusual and superbly researched book for both the railway and Great War buff.

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Book Review: Pale Battalions

9781784555009Pale Battalions: The Dark Land 

By David Swattridge (Austin Macauley 2015, ISBN 9781784555009, 459pp, £12.99)

This book, by new author David Swattridge, is a work of fiction using the Great War as a backdrop to a tale set in modern times. It follows the story of Sam Morbeck, an unhappily married man with a gambling addiction who hopes the acquisition of his wife’s aunt’s house might solve some of his monetary problems. The house is called ‘High Wood’ and it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the property, which becomes the central drive of the book. In essence it looks at how the ghosts of the past still haunt us: whether they be those from our own past or that of the Great War.

I am not always a fan of modern fiction about the Great War, and while this book did not really do anything for me, it is an admirable work and an easy read. If you want to read some very different fiction with some Great War content, then this is for you.

The book is available from the publisher.


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Book Review: Flo of the Somme

51Lz9TSXRXL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Flo of the Somme

by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey (Strauss House 2015, ISBN 978 0 9571245 7 8)

This is the third children’s book with a Great War theme produced by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey. It follows the story of stretcher bearer Ray and his dog Flo, who along with a little donkey go out to seek wounded on the High Wood battlefield during the Somme campaign in July 1916. That the book is set in a real framework, in a real time and space, makes it all the more engaging and remarkable.

Flo of the Somme is an absolutely stunning book: beautiful illustrations and a moving story told in a simple, meaningful way. The history of children’s literature tells us that young people are fascinated by stories of animals: and through the pages of this new book they will see the First World War in a very different way. I hope one day that it might inspire them to stand at Crucifix Corner, depicted in the book, look towards the dark mass of High Wood and imagine Flo there with them, and remember the millions of animals who were there because ‘they had no choice’.

Essential reading for young and old; and it will be the old, like me, who will no doubt shed a few tears over its pages.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.


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Book Review: The Leeds Pals

11548Leeds Pals by Laurie Milner

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 9781473841819, 410pp, profusely illustrated, hardback, £30,00)

The Leeds Pals were the 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. Raised in Leeds in September 1914 their long war first took then to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal and from there to the Western Front. On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme, they were annihilated in the attack on Serre. But despite these heavy losses, they later served at Arras in 1917 and in the German offensives of early 1918, ending their war in Flanders. By the end of the war the battalion had suffered over 3,300 casualties.

This superb book was first published in 1991 in the then large format ‘Pals’ series by the Barnsley Chronicle. This new edition is a substantial hardback but still retains the profusion of excellent illustrations as well as a sound, and easily readable text. There are also useful appendices with a nominal roll, casualty lists, names of those taken prisoner and information on gallantry awards. As such it will be of great interest to family historians as well as those fascinated by the story of the Pals in the Great War.

Laurie Milner’s book is a classic account of the men from Yorkshire whose war was two years in the making and ten minutes in the destruction at Serre on that terrible day in 1916, and it also gives us a wider understanding of how a battalion formed like this managed to sustain the whole war. Highly recommended.

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


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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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WW1 Book Review – Gallipoli in Soldiers’ Words & Photos

 Gallipoli: The Dardenelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs 

by Richard Van Emden & Stephen Chambers 

(Bloomsbury 2015, ISBN 978 1 4088 5615 4, 344pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

This fantastic book, packed with previously unseen images of the campaign in Gallipoli, is not just a photo book, it is a consice and fascinating insight into the events in 1915 packed with first hand accounts of those who were there. The authors are jointly known for their work on the Great War: Chambers the author of numerous battlefield guides to Gallipoli and Van Emden one of our most gifted oral historians of WW1. So they both bring great value to this book, which despite the huge number of previously published works on Gallipoli, brings a fresh perspective to a fascinating and haunting part of the Great War. The photographs themselves are well chosen and highly absorbong: the very rare image of the boats rowing the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach kept me spellbound for quite some time as somewhere in there is my grandfather. And this is what will appeal to many readers: these are extraordinary photographs of ordinary men in the madness of the Gallipoli campaign and as such open a new door to our understanding of events a century ago.

The book is available from the Bloomsbury website.