WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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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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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.


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Gallipoli Centenary: What Gallipoli Means To Me

Today is the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. There will be a Dawn Service at ANZAC where Australian and New Zealand troops came ashore on 25th April 1915 and perhaps some UK media attention to remember the British troops who landed with the French at Cape Helles.

V Beach, Gallipoli

V Beach, Gallipoli

Gallipoli is part of my earliest known memories connected to the Great War. I grew up on my grandmother’s stories of WW1 and her brother Dan fought at Gallipoli. As a child she used to tell me how after he had been sent home following a wound at Ypres, the family took him to a shop in Colchester to buy him a ‘tropical helmet’ to take with him to the Dardanelles, as she always called it. Not long after he got to Gallipoli he was wounded by a Turkish sniper; shot clean through the elbow while drinking a cup of tea. She used to take my arm and show me where his scar had been.

The Sphinx, ANZAC

The Sphinx, ANZAC

Bringing home a Victor comic one day which had a Gallipoli story in it, my father picked it up and related the story his father had told him about the landings in 1915. I never knew my paternal grandfather and this was one of the first times I ever remember my father talking about him. A boy sailor, he had joined the Navy in the early twentieth century and was serving on HMS Implacable at Gallipoli. He worked as a Leading Stoker in the boiler room and had volunteered to row troops from the ship into shore, just to have a break from his world of darkness, heat and soot. In fact his boat was taken off to bring in some of those from 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach and he recalled the water there running red with the blood of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

When I was a teenager my local cinema showed the Peter Weir film Gallipoli. I must have gone to see it a dozen times and although I now know it was flawed historically, it still rates as a magnificent piece of cinema and made me even more interested in the campaign.

Poppies at Suvla

Poppies at Suvla

When my travels to the Western Front began, my immediate thought was what about Gallipoli? I tried when I was Inter-railing as a student but in the end I didn’t get there until 2000 when I spent a fabulous week staying at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission base camp on the peninsula. Located right on ANZAC, we spent each night on the beach watching the sun come down and the amazing colours as the sun reflected on the cliffs above. All my reading, and all my interviews with Gallipoli veterans which I had the chance to do in the mid-80s, came together on that trip. I stood where my grandfather had been, I saw where my uncle Dan had been wounded by the sniper and saw my great uncle’s name on the Helles Memorial.

Walking Gallipoli

Walking Gallipoli

And ever since I have been going back: revisiting, filming with the BBC and taking battlefield tours. Gallipoli gets under your skin; you never quite forget it: its beauty, its tranquility, its wildlife. A wondrous landscape full of memory but tinged with the sadness of 1915. Having spent so much time there over the years you feel a great kinship with the men of that campaign. When up and down the Western Front I often come across the graves of men who had fought at Gallipoli and spend a few more moments than usual at their grave, thinking of that Gallipoli sun melting into the Aegean sea and wondering if they saw it too.

Hugh Quinn's grave - one I always visit at Gallipoli.

Hugh Quinn’s grave – one I always visit at Gallipoli.

In this centenary year I am not at Gallipoli for ANZAC Day… sadly. But I will be there later in 2015. Once more back with the ‘Men of Gallipoli’, in the gullies and on the shores, and thinking of those words of Gallipoli poet Leon Gellert.

I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees,
A thousand waves I heard; and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore-
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore.

 


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New Gallipoli Books from Pen & Sword

This weekend marks the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. On 25th April 1915 Australian, British, French and New Zealand forces landed on the Gallipoli coastline in Turkey in a daring plan to reach Constantinople. Gallipoli quickly turned into a mirror of the Western Front with trenches, barbed wire and stalemate, and cost the Allies more than 250,000 casualties and the Turks at least as many. Pen & Sword have special offers on many Gallipoli titles and these are some of the latest titles reviewed below.

Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: Gallipoli by Simon Fowler
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 368 6, 139pp, illustrations, maps, paperback, £12.99)

This book is part of a series by well known genealogy expert Simon Fowler. Their aim is to help the family historian trace a relative who served in a particular battle or campaign, and give them some wider context to make sense of what they did in that action. This excellent Gallipoli volume starts with an overview of the Gallipoli Campaign, takes some examples of what soldiers did at Gallipoli and then chapters follow which give a lead in how to research those who took part in the fighting here in 1915. The Royal Navy is covered as well as the army, and there is also a chapter on Commonwealth troops. The book ends with some leads on visiting the Gallipoli battlefields. An excellent one-stop volume giving useful context and excellent information on researching your Gallipoli ancestors. Highly recommended.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

Gallipoli by Christopher Pugsley
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 877514 64 7, 400pp, illustrations, maps, paperback, £16.99)

I bought this book when it first came out in 1984 and this new volume is a very welcome reprint of the original. This superb book, written by New Zealand’s leading military historian, tells the story of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) at Gallipoli. The NZEF were part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and all too often people forget ANZAC contained New Zealand troops as well as Australians. The book looks at the raising and training of the NZEF and then follows their experiences in Gallipoli from the landings at ANZAC through to the final battles. The NZEF also fought on the Helles front, where the British and French were, and this is not neglected. This is a finely written account of the Gallipoli campaign and arguably a classic volume on the subject. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in what the NZEF did in 1915.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

The Gallipoli Experience Reconsidered by Peter Liddle
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78340 039 3, 269pp, illustrations, maps, hardback, £25.00)

Author Peter Liddle is one of the leading experts on the Gallipoli campaign and it is refreshing in this centenary year to see a new volume on the subject by him. It is in fact an updated and revised version of his ‘Men of Gallipoli’ which came out in the 1970s and has been out of print for some time. Liddle specialises in individual soldiers stores, having collected together a huge amount of material for an archive that is now held at the University of Leeds. The book is full of these accounts covering every aspect of the campaign, and all the nations involved. Throughout it is illustrated with rare and unseen images. Still a classic forty years after it was first in print, Liddle’s book gives the soldier’s eye view of Gallipoli and stands among the classic accounts of the fighting in 1915. Recommended.

Available on the Pen & Sword website.

 


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WW1 Book Review – Before Action: William Noel Hodgson & The 9th Devons

105362Before Action: William Noel Hodgson & The 9th Devons by Charlotte Zeepvat
(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78346 375 6,237pp, hardback, illustrations, maps, £19.99)

Devonshire Cemetery on the Somme, which sits beneath the leafy glades of Mansel Copse opposite the village of Mametz, is probably one of the most visited on the battlefields of Picardy. The story of a lost poet and the man who made the plasticine model of the battlefield where he knew he would die, and the fact that the ‘Devonshire Regiment held this trench, they hold it still’ has resonated down the decades ever since Martin Middlebrook included it in his book on the First Day of the Somme in the 1970s. But what do we really know of these men and what happened here in 1916?

This new book is in essence a biography of the lost poet: William Noel Hodgson. The son of a vicar, the book takes us through Noel’s Edwardian childhood in Berwick-upon-Tweed to his education at Durham and later Oxford. Noel Hodgson wanted to write but the war interrupted his hopes and he was commissioned into the 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment. Decorated for bravery at Loos in 1915, he was among the many officers of his regiment to fall in the Somme advance of 1st July 1916 having written a prophetic poem in which he asked God, “help me to die, O Lord”.

But that is not just the scope of this book; it tells a much wider story of the war itself and that eventful moment at Mametz at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Indeed I found the chapter on the attack quite riveting and the best, and most detailed account of the assault ever published. We learn about Duncan Martin, who had made a plasticine model of the battlefield showing where all the positions were, and we discover perhaps that much of what we thought we knew about this part of the Somme perhaps deserves to be challenged.

This was a book I was eagerly awaiting to read and proved not to be disappointing and while the WW1 Centenary has seen a huge number of titles published, this fine book is already in my top ten. A totally absorbing read.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.