A new book edited by Carlos Traspaderne The Tangier Archive (Uniform Press 2014, ISBN 978 1 910500 156, 217pp, large format paperback, £25.00) began with the discovery of a box of 500 glass negatives in a Tangier market. The images were taken and annotated by a French officer during the Great War: these are not snaps, they are well composed and structured photographs taken on a good camera. While produced by a French officer they cover much more than the French front and many familiar places where the British Army fought are seen through the lens of this officer. The collection gives us an insight into everything from uniforms and technology, to the way the landscape was destroyed and an insight into battlefield conditions. The photos are simply stunning and they reproduced very well in this handsome edition. If you never tire of looking at Great War images then this is the book for you and if you want a one volume glimpse into out ancestors wartime past then The Tangier Archive is ideal.
The word ‘forgotten’ is probably the most over-used of the entire First World War Centenary but there are clearly forgotten aspects of that mighty conflict, and many forgotten battlefields – especially beyond the Somme. Military publishers Pen & Sword are to be congratulated for ensuring that new guidebooks to these areas are being published as well as Somme100 books and there are two new releases out.
David Blanchard’s Battleground Europe: Aisne 1918 (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78337 605 6, 280pp, paperback, £14.99) is a unique guidebook to the largely ignored British actions on the Chemin des Dames near Reims in May 1918 when British divisions sent their for a rest after actions on the Somme and Lys in March-April 1918 found themselves under attack for a third time. The author has been researching this for many years and this shows in the depth of knowledge in the book and the many never before seen images and accounts. The tour section is first class with some good leads on what to see and visit, excellent maps and information. Exactly what the centenary should be about: introducing us to areas that many have genuinely never before explored either in print or on the ground. Highly recommended.
Andrew Uffindell has written a number of books on the Great War and Napoleonic history, including a really good guidebook to the Marne 1914 battlefields which I used on the ground a while back. This new title The Nivelle Offensive & The Battle of the Aisne 1917 (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 78303 034 7, 197pp, £14.99) is an in-depth battlefield guide to the battlefields where the Neville Offensive took place on the Chemin des Dames in 1917, and where the French Army mutinied. The book breaks the battlefield up into sectors from Laffaux in the west to Malmaison and Craonne. The maps and illustrations are excellent, and there is a good mix of history and battlefield information. The section on the first use of tanks by the French is especially interesting. Another great battlefield guide to a neglected aspect of the First World War.
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.
Bob 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.
Historian 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.
This week will mark the centenary of the Battle of Verdun; the longest, and perhaps arguably one of the most terrible battles of the Great War. From February to December 1916 there were an estimated 770,000 French and German casualties and it became known to the Poilus who fought there as the ‘mincing machine’ or the ‘mill on the Meuse’ in the way it chewed up men, with killing almost on an industrial scale.
The landscape at Verdun also struggled to survive: conservative estimates on the amount of shells fired from the huge quantity of artillery used at Verdun – everything from the French 75mms to the massive German 420mm Big Berthas – state that more than 1,000 shells fell for every square metre of the battlefield. This turned Verdun into a lunar landscape of shell holes; a smashed and tortured landscape still visible beneath the trees of the National Forest today.
But more than the casualties, and the number of shells fired, is what Verdun came to mean, and still means. After the Great War Verdun was seen as a warning: that warfare on this scale should never happen again. This is what the ossuary at Douaumont was built for: a massive monument with the fragmented remains of those who had died in 1916 on display: look at war does to man, it must never happen again. The memories of Verdun were still fresh in the minds, the subconscious of the French nation when it found itself at war with Nazi Germany a generation later. Blitzkrieg shattered France’s armed forces and those left were faced with the cold, hard truth: fight on and face another Verdun, or capitulate. Even that hero of Verdun was wheeled out to unify France after the German victory: Marshall Philippe Pétain.
In the 1980s, at the height of a Cold War almost gone hot, Verdun surfaced once more as a way to bring France and Germany together: Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President François Mitterrand met, hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks at Verdun, even holding hands, during a time when an even more terrible conflict seemingly loomed close. The symbolism was obvious: Verdun was a warning once more.
A century on from 1916, Verdun emerges once more in France as the nation’s byword for the Great War. French people are remembering the Poilus of the Great War in a way that has not happened before, with superb projects like 1 Jour 1 Poilu, war memorials are being researched and the generation of the Great War is not some distant part of France’s past. The war touched all of France, and a century later it touches the nation once more: what modern France makes of Verdun today remains to be seen.
Guest Post by Gwyneth Roberts : www.thebluelinefrontier.wordpress.com
Two magazines currently on sale in hypermarkets and bookshops in Alsace are very useful for anyone who is considering visiting this beautiful and interesting region to explore the impact of the Great War and the vestiges of warfare in the Vosges.
La Grande Guerre en Alsace (7,50€)
The cover of this magazine shows two brothers shaking hands next to a frontier post near Metz before the Great War. One is wearing a German uniform, the other a French one. This illustrates one of the themes of the magazine: with a clear focus on Alsace, it looks at the ways in which the traumatic outcome of the Treaty of Frankfurt, 1871, resonated through the world wars of the twentieth century and, as the 14-18 Centenary approaches, how the psychology of the region was affected. It includes some of the issues particular to Alsace and Lorraine, such as the question of nationality, the effects on families of this very specific internal conflict, and the dilemmas faced by Alsaciens-Lorrains who liked the Germanic character which had developed in the region or those who yearned nostalgically for France.
Sections look at life in the trenches, the poet Ernst Stadler who was born in Alsace to German parents, served as German soldier and was killed by a French shell, prisoners and deserters (with a particular reference to Feldgrau-Alsaciens), Alaskan sled dogs, air warfare, civilians, religion at the Front, the post-victory problems of being initially neither German nor French and the predicament of families whose sons had died in German uniform. It’s well illustrated with contemporary photographs and images.
Published in November 2013 by DNA – Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (dna.fr) -number 58 in the series called Les Saisons d’Alsace. (dna.fr)
Sentiers de mémoire de la Grande Guerre (7,00€)
The Massif des Vosges is especially interesting because it was the only mountain Front on French soil between 1914 and 1918. The difficulties of logistics, transport, construction of military buildings, managing an infrastructure and maintaining remnants of civilian life alongside the constraints of mountain terrain, altitude and climate were particular to this area.
This magazine is devoted to 31 walks which take in sites connected with the Great War in Alsace, underpinned by the theme of tourisme de mémoire. They include unexpected sites and lesser known places, vestiges and traces of the men’s presence, plus some unexpected museums. Indeed, some places are almost open-air museums themselves. The walks range from 2.5 km to 90 km and vary in difficulty from gentle strolls to serious hiking, for families or for energetic enthusiasts, from Kilomètre Zéro in the south (official inauguration 20.7.2014) to the sentier des casemates in the north. I have done a lot of exploring myself well before this publication appeared and I’m particularly enthusiastic about getting away from the crowded sites. I found some useful suggestions in this magazine.
It starts with some well-illustrated introductory articles and has a useful appendix with lots of exhibitions listed.
Published in May 2014 by DNA – Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (dna.fr) – # 6 in the series called Passion Vosges.
This link is also worth a visit:
14-18 Alsace, le centenaire:
Strasbourg publisher le Nuée Bleu ( a partner of DNA) has some current offerings:
La bataille des Frontières Vosges 1914-1915 (Jean-Paul Claudel) on promo in bookshops and on their website at 3€ instead of 18€
Les Alsaciens-Lorrains pendant la Grande Guerre (Jean-Noël & Francis Grandhomme)
Tonight Jeremy Paxman’s Britain’s Great War starts on BBC1 at 21.00. It is being scheduled as the BBC’s flagship series for the WW1 Centenary and is certainly the start of a whole scope of programmes associated with the Great War which the BBC announced on their special WW1 Page.
I worked on this series for eleven months, with all four producers and of course Jeremy himself. My contribution was just on the WW1 battlefields themselves at locations like Mons, in Flanders, on the Somme or the Hindenburg Line. It has been interesting to read some of the comments about the series, mostly by people who have not even seen it yet. Was Jeremy the right one to present it? Why not an historian? Television is a costly process and networks want to ensure that as many people as possible watch the end result, which is why many of these type of programmes are presented by people like Jeremy Paxman. But Jeremy is a serious and enquiring journalist, certainly well read on the Great War from my experience, and from my own involvement in it, Britain’s Great War will bring some fresh perspectives and – more importantly I hope – many new people to the subject of the First World War, which can only be welcomed.
Britain’s Great War will no doubt not please everyone, and many will ask why aspects of the war have been included seemingly at the expense of others, but the next four years are about interpretation. No two people ever agree about almost any aspect of the Great War and no single programme or series will ever represent a global view of the subject; could it ever? But television like this will get an audience talking – whether people realise the merit and value of that remains to be seen.
A new website has been launched to highlight the role of North Africans in the Great War. Men from every part of North Africa fought in the conflict either in units of the British or French Armies. Among them were Egyptians in the Egyptian Labour Corps in the British sector and combat troops recruited in Algerian, Morocco and Senegal among many others.
The site is also a portal to a foundation which aims to send a ehibition highlighting the role of these men around the world. The site explains:
“Visitors to the Menin Gate in Ypres are often surprised to find the names of Muslim soldiers who died on the Western Front. The contributions and sacrifices of soldiers and workers from North Africa to the Great War have not been given the recognition which they are due. Colonial subjects worked, fought, were captured and died in their thousands between 1914 and 1918.
This is the first international exhibition to pay tribute to the citizens of North Africa who served in the Western Front. The men of North Africa, Berbers and Arabs alike, had no stake in the European war that erupted in August 1914.
Each North African country had a history of resistance to foreign rule.
It is a cruel irony of the Great War that colonial subjects were asked to serve their colonial rulers in a war not of their making.
Whatever their misgivings about fighting for France, the North African soldiers fought with courage and distinction by all accounts and played a decisive role in the ultimate Entente victory over Germany. During the war, North African loyalties were tested as the German government sought to turn Muslim prisoners of war to propaganda advantage.
The Great War also introduced North Africans to the European labour market, a trend that would develop over ensuing decades as workers from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia crossed the Mediterranean in search of gainful employment.
Over the years, many North Africans became naturalized citizens of Europe, where they are now in their third and fourth generation as European citizens. This exhibition is also intended to celebrate Europe’s citizens of North African origins and the contributions they have made to Europe in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries.”
The site can be found here:- Forgotten Heroes: North Africa and The Great War.