WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


2 Comments

International Blacksmithing Event Ypres 2016

5075096814_f6cc0d71ef_o

A fascinating WW1 Centenary event is scheduled to take place at Ypres in Belgium on 1st-6th September 2016 involving blacksmiths from around the world. The website of the event explains:

In September 2016, a new World War 1 Cenotaph will be created at the Grote Markt, in front of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium. The Cenotaph will be located adjacant to the German War Cemetery at Langemarck-Poelkapelle.

poppy-home

The Cenotaph will commemorate everyone involved in the conflict, both military and civilian on all sides – all those who died, all those wounded, all those displaced – and of equal importance, their families and their communities. In the War of 1914 -1918 blacksmiths and farriers were indispensable in sustaining the war effort on all sides. In September 2016, hundreds of blacksmiths from around the world will come together in Ypres to remember all those affected by the war and to create in one week, a Cenotaph based on the internationally recognised icon, the Flanders Field Poppy. This will make a unique contribution to the many commemorative sites and structures on the Western Front, serving to commemorate all involved in and affected by the conflict.

This is a great idea and diverse projects like this are exactly what the WW1 Centenary should be about. More on the project website: www.ypres2016.com

 


Leave a comment

Book Review: New Edition of Holts Battlefield Guides

Major and Mrs Holt have spent much of the past thirty years building a reputation as battlefield experts first with their battlefield tours and since they left that company, in the form of their guidebooks and maps. As the centenary of the Great war begins two new editions of their guidebooks have just been published.

Western Front North (Pen & Sword Military 2014, ISBN 978 178159 397 4, 367pp, fully illustrated, £16.99)

This is part of a two-volume set covering most of the Western Front from the Belgian coast to beyond Verdun, splitting the battlefields between ‘North’ and ‘South’. This North volume covers Flanders down as far as Arras but also Mons and Le Cateau and some of the final battlefield areas of November 1918. The book begins with sections on practical information and how to use the guidebook and then follows a series of chapters covering the battles from Mons to the fighting in Flanders. Each of these chapters has one or more battlefield tour of the related areas and while there is some cross-over, for example with Aubers Ridge and Fromelles, generally this works well. The text of the guidebook is well written, as one would expect with the Holts, and there is sufficient detail for each location. The maps within the book are clear and relate to the text, and the images throughout are modern day colour illustrations which help visualise the guidebook.

While not everything in these battlefield areas is covered in this guidebook – when is it ever, in any such guide? – this is a good overall study of what is largely a neglected area of the Western Front and as such is recommended for anyone considering a trip to the ‘forgotten front’. My only criticism would be is that I would have liked to see less on Ypres, which the authors have covered in the volume below, and more on the other sectors but as this is a guidebook to the whole front from Nieuport to Arras, it did need some coverage of Wipers.

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

Ypres: Salient & Passchendaele (Pen & Sword reprinted edition 2014, ISBN 978n0 85052 551 9, 288pp, fully illustrated, bundled with a full-colour map, £16.99)

This is not a new 2014 edition of this guidebook but a reprint of one compiled a few years ago, and in that respect it is a shame as some of the detail contained in this edition is now out of date or incorrect, given the changes in the last eighteen months leading up to the WW1 Centenary.

Having said that this is still a very useful guidebook to the battlefields around Ypres and covers a wide area in some depth, and also includes a full colour A2 map showing all the locations mentioned, battle lines and other information. As with all the Holts guidebooks it is fully illustrated in colour and easy to use and digest.

The book itself is divided up into several sections: approaches to Ypres, and what there is to see en-route, and then three main itineraries around the Salient covering all the key battle sites. There are other chapters with suggested visits up to the Flanders coast where the Western Front ended near Nieuport as well as a focus on the mine craters along the Messines Ridge. Overall an excellent Ypres guidebook and well worth packing on any visit to Flanders, and I look forward to a Centenary update in due course.

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


1 Comment

WW1 Book Review: Latest Titles from Pen & Sword

The Home Front In The Great War by David Bilton (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 177 6, paperback, 256pp, fully illustrated, £14.99)

During the WW1 Centenary it is all too possible for the events on the battlefield to overshadow the Home Front. The Great War in some respects is not a conflict associated with a ‘Home Front’ in the same way WW2 is, and it is forgotten that the first Blitz was in WW1 and there was rationing by 1918. This superb new book covers life in wartime Britain in some depth and is broken into three sections, the first looking at the Home Front chronologically, then outlining a timeline of the war and finally a third section looks at particular aspects of Home Front history from the YMCA to Special Constables and the often forgotten Volunteer Force. This structure works really well and makes it a very accessible book, and the text is excellent and is accompanied by some superb photos, many of which are published for the first time. This is the best single volume I have read on the Home Front in the Great War and it is highly recommended.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

Veteran Volunteer: Memoir of the trenches, tanks & captivity 1914-1919 Edited by Jamie Vans & Peter Widdowson (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 277 3, hardback, 194pp, illustrations, £19.99)

I first came across the author of these memoirs, Frank Vans Agnew MC, when we were making WW1 Tunnels of Death for Channel 5 as we used one of his Messines battle maps in the programme. The diaries follow his war from service in the King Edward’s Horse to his transfer to the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps and later Tank Corps, serving with B Battalion at Messines and Cambrai, where he was taken prisoner. The second half of the book is a fascinating account of life as an officer prisoner of war in Germany. The diaries are well written and very readable and essential reference for anyone interested in the tanks, and there are some great images of the author as well as the tanks he commanded. A superb Great War memoir.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.

The Great War Explained by Philip Stevens (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78346 186 8, paperback, 221pp, illustrated, £12.99)

This book states that it is ‘the essential starting point for all who want to understand the First World War’ and sets it out to be a single volume reference for the major aspects of the conflict aimed at the beginner who wants to understand the Great War. There is a section on why there was a war, and chronological chapters looking at various aspects of the war and its main battles. The appendices cover other areas such as information on the key generals, weapons and ideas on visiting the Western Front today. While I’m not convinced you can condense the Great War into one volume like this there is no doubt this book will be valuable to those conducting genealogical research who want an easy way to look at the wider picture or newcomers to the Great War who want a single volume to start their reading.

The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.


1 Comment

WW1 Book Review: Armageddon’s Walls

Armageddon’s Walls: British Pillboxes 1914-1918 by Peter Oldham (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 300 3, 286pp, hardbound, £25.00)

The pillboxes of the Great War stand in large numbers across the old battlefields of the Western Front but as they are often tucked up behind modern buildings or seen in isolation in the middle of a field they can very difficult to ‘read’. What were they used for? Who built them and when? That is where this new book comes in. It looks at the background to the construction of and use of concrete structures by the British Army in the Great War and the rest of the book acts as an excellent gazetteer to the pillboxes which still exist in the British sector from Flanders to the Somme. It is packed with illustrations, including some wartime images of the bunkers that still survive, along with useful maps and lots of information. Not exactly a book you would want to read from cover to cover but very useful indeed to have in the car when visiting the battlefields. Highly recommended.

Available from the publisher’s website.


2 Comments

Book Review: New WW1 Guide Books from Pen & Sword

The Retreat From Mons 1914: North by Jon Cooksey & Jerry Murland (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 038 5, 157pp, paperback, illustrated, £14.99)

Jon Cooksey is editor of Stand To! and Jerry Murland has written several books about the British Army in 1914 and this volume is part of a series the authors have been working on covering largely lesser known battlefields of the Great War. Starting with a brief background to the British Army in 1914, some historical context and visitors information, the bulk of the book covers four main tours looking at different aspects of the Mons battlefields. This takes in the Mons area itself but also the early stage of the Retreat From Mons down to the battlefield at Le Cateau. Text is clear and the book goes into some detail with lots of human interest stories. There are good, clear maps and is well supported by contemporary images as well as colour modern ones. Mons has lacked a good battlefield guide for some time and this certainly fills the gap taking the visitor to some well known sites and also some lesser known ones. A fantastic Mons battlefield guide and essential reading for anyone going to Mons for the Centenary this August.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.

Ypres 1914: Langemarck by Jack Sheldon & Nigel Cave (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78159 199 4, 208pp, paperback, illustrated, £12.99)

The authors have produced a number of Battleground Europe books looking at familiar Great War battlefields from a German perspective based on the research done by Jack Sheldon in German archives and unit histories. This volume looks at Langemarck, a village associated with a great deal of myth when it comes to the German experience of WW1 as the Nazis peddled the myth that the cream of Germany’s youth suffered a futile death here in the First Battle of Ypres. The bulk of this book is history rather than guidebook and nearly 130 pages cover the fighting in some depth with insights from both the British and German perspective. It is well illustrated, with many photos from German sources and thus lesser known. The tour section suggests four battlefield routes which cover areas much wider than Langemarck itself, and again there are good illustrations and maps to accompany this. My only criticism is that I could not find any mention of the symbolism of Langemarck to the next generation, nor any debate about the Lanhemarck – which was odd considering the book is more history than battlefield guide. Having said that it is a useful book for anyone wanting to look at an aspect of First Ypres in depth or visit the battlefields from a different perspective.

The book is available from the publisher’s website.


7 Comments

WW1 Books: The Stockbrokers’ Battalion

The Stockbrokers’ Battalion In The Great War: A History of the 10th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers

By David Carter (Pen & Sword 2014, ISBN 978 1 78303 637 0, 272pp, illustrated, £25.00)

The Royal Fusiliers is one of the most fascinating of First World War regiments; it formed a huge number of battalions and many of them had links to specific locations such as the 22nd (Kensington) Battalion and others to trades or occupations: and that is where the Stockbrokers’ Battalion comes in. Formed in 1914 from those who worked at the Stock Exchange and in City Firms it contained a broad range of men from a variety of backgrounds.

This excellent battalion history follows the Stockbrokers from their formation and training in 1914/15 to the battlefields where they held a so-called quiet sector before taking part in the Battle of the Somme. It then takes the reader through some of the great battles of WW1 from Arras to Flanders, and the final battles of 1918.

The book is well illustrated with many images never before seen in print, and the accounts quoted throughout are relevant and in many cases very vivid and give good insight into the experience of the men who served with the 10th Royal Fusiliers. It is an excellent tribute to an unusual battalion and a fine contribution to the battalion histories being published as part of the Great War Centenary.

The book can be purchased from the Pen & Sword Website.


Leave a comment

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.