WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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Iconic WW1 Fresco Added to New Thiepval Museum

Joe Sacco Fresco [77185]

Construction of a new 400 square metre museum as an extension of the Thiepval Memorial Visitor Centre has been completed which will now see the installation of unique imagery, museum exhibits and multimedia displays.

The opening of the new museum is scheduled for 1 June 2016 and will be a prelude to the Centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, the iconic battle on the 1 July 1916 which was the bloodiest day for the British Army, becoming a symbol of the First World War in Great Britain.

Installed this week will be one of the most prominent and key pieces of the exhibition being a 60 metre long illustrated panorama drawing depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme, as an open imaginary window onto the battlefield on 1 July 1916.

The drawing The Great War, the first day of the Battle of the Somme is the work of Joe Sacco, an artist who lives in the United States, was born on the island of Malta and spent much of his childhood in Australia. It was during his upbringing in Australia that inspired his interest in the First World War hearing stories of the country’s disastrous involvement in the Dardanelles campaign of 1915, which is commemorated each year on ANZAC Day.

Joe Sacco says :

“The First World War had been in my mind for years. I began reading about the Somme, Verdun and became fascinated and horrified by the concept of trench warfare and the idea that so many men lost their lives fighting over such small area of ground. That fascination and horror manifested into the image I have created to depict the first day of the Battle of the Somme.”

The second key piece soon to be installed will be a large scale reproduction of the aeroplane used by Georges Guynemer, a French pilot during the Great War.

This will feature as part of the Heroic Figures aspect of the exhibition. From 1916, the role of aviation in the war increased and with this the emergence of great figures or “sky heroes”.

Further exhibits will include  : accounts and testimonies from missing soldiers of all nationalities giving perspectives of the battle ; display of items from the Historial’s collections, which are archaeological remains left by the war found during the construction process.

The Germans on the Somme  – a specific installation to explain the German experience of the Battles of the Somme ;

The Battles of the Somme ; Mourning and Missing – a comparison of two types of memories ; the massive loss of men in a total, destructive war symbolised by the fate of the Missing and the heroic figures.

The Mass of the Missing – a specific room “Chapel to the Missing” will be dedicated to those soldiers whose names adorn the Thiepval Monument of which there are 72,194 British and South African soldiers who fell and were declared missing on the Somme battlefields between July 1915 and March 1918.

When opened joint tickets will be available for entrance to the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne and the new museum at the Thiepval site.

For more information : www.historial.org ; email : info@historial.org or call : +33 (0) 3 22 83 14 18

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CWGC: Remember War Dead in the UK

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have launched a new appeal to the British public to remember the dead buried in more than 12,000 locations across the United Kingdom during the 141 days of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. In doing so they have teamed up with British actor, Hugh Dennis, who has a personal interest in the Great War.

The CWGC state on their website:

The CWGC Living Memory Project aims to encourage UK community groups to discover, explore and remember the war grave heritage on their doorstep. The CWGC is looking for 141 UK groups, to hold 141 events, to mark the 141 days of the Somme offensive.

Hugh Dennis, Living Memory ambassador for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “I have a very personal connection with the First World War as both my grandfathers fought at the Western Front. My great uncles also fought and one, my great uncle Frank, died and is commemorated by the CWGC in Gallipoli, Turkey.

“I’d urge everyone to get involved in this initiative so we never forget those who died during the Great War and are buried and commemorated so close to us on the home front.”

The idea is to encourage groups to research and find Somme casualties buried in UK cemeteries and remember them as part of the centenary. CWGC are offering help, resources and some funding as part of the project. Any community group interested in participating in the project can register now by emailing livingmemory@cwgc.org or visiting www.cwgc.org/livingmemory.

This is a really excellent idea and superb project from CWGC and I look forward to reading about some of the results of it during the Somme100 period.


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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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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: Understanding The Somme 1916

9781909384422In the introduction to this book the authors state “This is a battlefield guide with a difference. It is not the usual itinerary of memorials and cemeteries.” It is a shame that this is the opening statement of the book because it is not really true; this book is only barely recognisable as ‘different’ from other Somme guides and it does, essentially, describe memorials and cemeteries while often containing a little more history than the average guide. I hope this statement won’t put some potential readers off as the book does have its merits and is a useful addition to our understanding of the Somme battlefields.

The book begins with a chapter setting the scene, giving some useful context. Fifteen further chapters break the Somme battlefields down into key areas with a lot of, understandable, focus on 1st July 1916 but it also looks at the later fighting and it was pleasing to see a chapter on Flers-Courcelette for example. A typical chapter takes an historical approach, describes the events, often in some detail, and then goes on to discuss cemeteries, memorials and battlefield sites in that key area. The maps which support it are good and there are colour modern photos throughout the book, which is most welcome.

The amount of detail, and it’s use in the field, varies greatly and this reflects badly on the authors’ initial claims as the visitor to the battlefield using this guide will visit many locations mentioned and struggle to find more than a bare mention of it in the book. So is it worth buying and taking with you on a trip to the Somme? Yes indeed; as it supplements a lot of other guidebooks but giving a wider historical context. And this is perhaps its problem; is it a history book or a guide book? In the end it is a little of both, but only a little so perhaps struggles to understand what its true purpose is. But for a true understanding a battle like the Somme no one book can ever help you; any visitor needs to arm themselves with a haversack full and this title should certainly be among them.

The book is available from the Helion Books website.