WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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Book Review: Forgotten Battlefields

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.

10919David 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.

11095Andrew 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.

 

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WW1 Book Review: The Retreat From Mons 1914 – South

7716The Retreat From Mons 1914: South by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland
(Pen & Sword Books 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 336 5, 152pp, paperback, illustrations, maps, £14.99)

Authors Cooksey and Murland embarked on a series of battlefield guides for those wishing to visit the Western Front by car, on bike or on foot, in the approach to the WW1 Centenary. This latest offering in their ‘Battle Lines’ series follows on from a previous volume devoted to the 1914 battlefields at Mons, and looks at the battlefields from Etreux to the Marne. In doing so they cover a lot of ground, in some respects many forgotten battlefields of the Great War. Unjustly forgotten because, as the volume demonstrates, there is an awful lot to see in this area.

The book follows the format of previous volumes with useful background information and general battlefield visiting details. It then follows four stages breaking the considerable distance between Etreux and the Marne down into manageable chunks. Throughout the information is clear and text well written, and there are good, colour illustrations and useful maps not too crowded with detail.

This is an excellent guidebook to a neglected area of the Western Front and is highly recommended, as with all the volumes in the series.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.


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Exploring The Western Front From End To End

The Western Front, established following the end of the mobile war in 1914, stretched for more than 450 miles from the Belgian coast in north Flanders to the border of Switzerland in the Vosges, in Eastern France. I have explored it from end to end a few times, the first time in the 1980s, and the last was in 2008. I am about to depart on the journey again as part of a Battlefield Recce for a new Leger Holidays Battlefield Tour I am running in 2014.

The majority of Western Front visitors never go beyond the Somme, except to venture perhaps to Verdun, but beyond Picardy is one of the most fascinating areas of the Old Front Line. In Eastern France there are vast areas of trenches preserved among the trees in the many forests and woods there, along with bunkers, mine craters and many other preserved area of battlefield. Some of the first shots of the war were fired here in the Battles of the Frontier and the first French and German fatalities occurred in this area on 2nd August 1914.

Over the next nine days I will be starting on the beaches of Flanders at Nieuport and working my way down the front, seeing many of these places. You can follow my journey on my Twitter account but I will also be using the trip to launch a new WW1 Centenary website called WW1 Revisited. This goes live properly on the morning of 1st March and will be a new site exploring my love of photography and the First World War battlefields.


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New French IGN WW1 Map

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The Institut Géographique Nationale, the French company that produces high quality maps of the whole of France, has produced a new map for the WW1 Centenary. The map covers a major portion of the Western Front battlefields in France.

A press release states:

This map features the main front lines in 1914, 1917 and 1918. It proposes a series of circuits in vehicles or on foot, and of course, the location of the main sites of memory (cemeteries, memorials, forts, places of battle, destroyed villages …). A complete legend relates the dates and locations of major battles (1914 to 1918). A “zoom” target main front lines and battles (Reims-Soissons, Verdun, Paris-Lens). This map was published in partnership with “Mission Centennial 14-18.” The scale is 1:410 000 (1cm represents 4.1 km). It is in three languages ​​(French, German, English).

The map cost 7.90€ and it is available in French bookstores, newsagents and many sites on the WW1 battlefields or via the IGN website.


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WW1 Books: 1914 – Voices From The Battlefields

1914voices1914 – Voices from The Battlefield by Matthew Richardson, with a foreword by Dr Peter Liddle (Pen & Sword Books 2013, ISBN 978-1-84884-777-4, 296pp, illustrated)

The 1914 campaign witnessed the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) despatched to France where it took part in the fighting at Mons, on the Marne and Aisne, in Northern France and at the First Battle of Ypres. More than 370,000 British soldiers were awarded the so-called ‘Mons Star‘ for this period of the war and it witnessed the end of what one veteran called ‘The Red Little, Dead Little Army’.

With the beginning of the WW1 Centenary about to start, and a hundred years from 1914 next year, there are a whole host of books which have either just come out or are about to appear. Many follow well trodden paths and tell us very little new about the BEF and the ‘Old Contemptibles’ who were a part of it. However, this new book by Matthew Richardson is very different; it focuses on the ordinary soldier and his experience, and use a whole host of sources, many from the Liddle Archive which the author of the foreword of this volume founded in the 1970s and Richardson himself once worked in.

As such there is some genuinely new material here and it casts some fresh light on the BEF as well as serving as a superb companion to the battles of the BEF in the early months of the war. The book is well written and is illustrated throughout with many images from the author’s collection and private archives, most of which have not appeared before. Highly recommended, especially if you just want one volume to pop in your rucksack if you plan to follow in the footsteps of the BEF during the WW1 Centenary. The author has a similar book about the Somme in preparation and I very much look forward to that.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.


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WW1 Books: Marne 1914 – A Battlefield Guide

The Marne 1914: A Battlefield Guide by Andrew Uffindell (Pen & Sword Books 2013, ISBN 978-1-84884-801-6, 215pp, Illustrated throughout, maps, £15.99)

The Battle of the Marne was the first decisive battle of the Great War and although British troops were involved, there have been few published works in English and the last battlefield guide dedicated to the area was published by Michelin in the 1920s.

This new guide by respected military historian Andrew Uffindel fills a massive gap in our knowledge of this battle and the battlefield today. It is well written and the illustrations are a mix of contemporary images along with those of the ground as it is today. There is a colour section, and the maps are detailed and clear.

The book is broken up into seven tours looking at the area where the first fighting on the Marne took place, the Battle of the Ourcq and key areas connected with the rest of the operation. There are separate chapters on locations further afield along with advice on further reading and sources.

This is a fascinating book and an important contribution to our understanding of the Great War battlefields as it gives a clear lead to those who want to explore beyond Flanders and the Somme and do not know how. Highly recommended.

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


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New WW1 Centenary Website

Well here it is – a new WW1 Centenary website to partner my existing site – Great War Photos. I had started to post some news and current articles on there rather than just WW1 images and felt it was getting a bit cross-polluted, so this site will be here to post news about development on the WW1 battlefields; not just in Belgium and France but much further afield. There will be articles on WW1 museums, WW1 battlefield sites and photos from visits to sites along the Old Front Line.

I will also be posting details of upcoming centenary events and special centenary Battlefield Tours I am planning with Leger Battlefields.

Many people are homing in on the centenary period for all sorts of reasons, but my own, which I know I share with many friends on Twitter, is to spread information and understanding.

The years 2014-2018 will be a period to reflect and remember; not just the dead, but the forgotten survivors as well, and not just the British Tommy; but men from all sides and nations. We need to end the commemoration in 2018 with a feeling that something lasting has been achieved. Here is to that day.