WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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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: 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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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.


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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.