(The History Press, 2013)
ISBN 978-0-7524-8916-2 £12.99
There's surprising little specifically written about the conscripts who served in the British Army during the First World War. The key text remains Ilana Bet-El's 2003 book Conscripts: Forgotten Men of the Great War. This book discusses the experiences of a draft of 135 teenagers from the mill towns of the West Riding who arrived in France in June 1918 to reinforce the 2/4yh and 5th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Both units were part of the 62nd Division.
Tim Lynch's thorough and well-written book traces their experiences training in the UK and at Etaples and describes what happened to them once they arrived in the frontline. In particular Dr Lynch stresses the need for the draft to fit in as quickly as possible. By now the War was very different to the one their fathers and older brothers may have experienced. Much had been learnt by the infantry as well as by the High Command.
In August came the 'Hundred Days' push which broke the German Army, although there is little here about the offensive. Instead the author concentrates on the men's lives and what they would have experienced in the front line and in the rest and training camps.
As a result the book is a valuable account of the ordinary British soldier at the very zenith of British military power in the twentieth century in the summer and autumn of 1918.
Reviewed by Simon Fowler
ISBN 978-0-9572095-1-0 £15
Order from Richard Dennis Publications, The New Chapel, Shepton Beauchamp TW19 0JT, www.richarddennispublications.com
Medicine and Duty was originally published in 1928 and has long been a sought after collectors item, but now it is available in a new edition. The editors have restored a lot of the manuscript which was cut by the publishers in the 1920s.
Harold Dearden volunteered in 1914 serving initially at No 5 British Red Cross Hospital at Wimereux later transferred to the 3rd Grenadier Guards and served during 3rd Ypres and Cambrai. He is wounded twice and spent 1918 recovering from shell shock in England. Dearden later wrote of his wartime experiences that: "It was a life that agreed with me. It was primitive, eventful and uncomplicated."
Dearden's diary begins with an account of his time as a hospital doctor, but becomes a lot more interesting when he transfers to the Grenadier Guards. There are vignettes and stories of his fellow officers, but most of the entries naturally touch upon his work as the battalion medical officer treating the wounded, with a number of graphic entries, such as the one for 16 September about dealing with a shell-shocked officer from an infantry battalion: "The last we saw of him he was being helped along by two NCOs like a crumpled tealeaf."
Memoirs by medical officers are rare which makes this account even more interesting.
Reviewed by Simon Fowler
Yvonne McEwen ((Official Historian of the British Army Nursing Service and Director of 'Scotland's War 1914-1919' the University of Edinburgh Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict)
This is a seminal text for anyone studying or interested in nursing and medical practices during the First World War. It seeks to break the myths and romantic nonsense that has seeped into so much of the writing on the topic in recent years. In particular it discusses at length the work of the professional, trained nurses of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAs), the Reserve and the Territorials, who undertook the vast majority of nursing and care giving overseas.
It has an excellent index and bibliography to assist further research, while the list of abbreviations means the non specialist can follow and understand the complex "Learning Curve" that the nursing service underwent during the course of the war, making excellent use of quotes. The working professional relationships between the nurses, the Royal Army Medical Corp, stretcher-bearers and orderlies has been missing from other texts. For the first time we have a sense of how all elements worked together to help the sick and wounded in the "Chain of Evacuation", in particular on the Western Front.
The early working conditions for nurses on trains and hospital ships reflect their professionalism and duty towards the men in their care. The narrative is clear and very well written, the different roles of the QA's, the Reserves, the Territorials and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) who nursed primarily at home is placed in context, with detailed examples and footnotes. The structure allows the reader to analyse the social, political and cultural changes as the war progresses, together with rapid nursing and medical developments.
Both Home and Overseas service is discussed but of particular note is the chapter on Gallipoli and the wider Dardanelles Campaign. Appendix 1 lists the nurses awarded the Military Medal, together with citations. These simple accounts show the danger that so many worked in and accepted as part of their usual working conditions, in particular the QAs.
Appendix 2 Disabilities and Pensionable Years details the cost many of these nurses paid for their dedication and responsibility. The whole text reflect the highest level of academic research but it is both accessible and readable, being exceptional value for money and written by a renowned expert in the area of military nursing. Yvonne McEwen has given the women who served as QAs or VADs, whether at home or overseas, their identity back as individuals and placed their work within the political framework of nursing and the wider context of the First World War.
I very much look forward to a Second Volume, which will continue to tell the story of the British Army Nursing Service.
Dr Phylomena Badsey MA
Project Manager / Visiting Lecturer
First World War Research Group
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Wolverhampton
This book is much wider than its title suggests and is well worth reading from various angles. John "Max" Staniforth was a highly educated man whose writing style is both lucid and amusing. The book consists of his edited letters which he sent, on at least a weekly basis, to his parents during his service in WWI from 1914 to 1918. He rediscovered them during a house removal in the 1970s, later typed them up and tried to have them published. Unfortunately, interest in WWI was at a low ebb, and he could not find a publisher for them. He died in 1985 and so never lived to see them in print, which is clearly a great shame.
Some of the letters succumbed to the effects of 50 years of mould and mice but most did in fact survive. Professor Richard Grayson has edited them, adding footnotes and much other material to help explain the context to the reader. In particular, he explains where on the Western Front, or elsewhere, each letter was written, as Staniforth was unable to do so at the time they were originally written, for obvious reasons. Indeed, I gather from the WFA's own expert on the 16th Irish, Denis McCarthy, that the original letters are difficult to decipher, so Richard Grayson's input on many fronts should not go unnoticed.
Staniforth was, in truth, a very English chap. His father was a GP in Yorkshire and Staniforth junior was at school at Charterhouse before going up to Christ Church, Oxford where he was when war broke out in August 1914. He enlisted in October in the Connaught Rangers as a private. His mother was originally from County Cavan and his maternal great grandfather had served in the forerunner of the Connaughts. Enlisting in Whitby and opting for the Connaughts caused some considerable confusion in the local recruiting office!
The account of the rough and ready recruits, and the training at the depot in Fermoy is certainly illuminating. This includes a brawl involving drunk prisoners breaking out of the guardhouse and the ensuing fracas, resulting in two of them dying of their injuries. He describes the daily routine and the various activities of the training camp, which were rather more subdued and constructive.
He was made a corporal by the end of October, not long after he had reached the Fermoy depot. A few weeks later, he was encouraged to apply for a commission by a young Dublin lieutenant who had joined the Dublin Fusiliers as a ranker "to see what the life was like" and had then applied for a commission. Staniforth did likewise, having been assured by the Dublin lieutenant that he could live on a subaltern's pay. Before signing his application, his colonel gave Staniforth the task of drilling the company in "practicing skirmishing and extended order" on the local race course. Clearly it all met with the colonel's approval. He was commissioned into the 7th Leinsters where he remained, more or less, for much of his service, though he was in the 2nd Leinsters toward the end of the war.
Staniforth's first "job" was as a signals officer and he was sent off for signals training in April 1915. It would be a further 8 months before the division was sent to France, as high command felt that the it needed much further training to make it effective. During his time as a signals officer, he describes scavenging cable on the battlefield and on one occasion, having rolled up a 2000 yard length of it, discovering that he had just disconnected a French artillery unit from its HQ. So, profound apologies all round and he had to re-lay the cable, but he said that the French were very nice about it.
Later in the war, he acted at various times as an adjutant, quartermaster, and officer in charge of a troop train, amongst other tasks such as "just" being an officer of the regiment. He describes his varied roles in some detail and in an amusing turn of phrase. In particular, the sheer level of organisation and effort involved in supplying a front line unit with its various requirements for a 24 hour period makes for educational reading. It also helped me realise what an adjutant actually did in WWI.
He describes his journey back to the UK as a gas casualty in 1918 which gives a lucid insight into the fate of the wounded. He had periods of sick leave when he suffered from scabies (a nasty skin infection) and from severe dental problems.
In another letter, he comments on censoring the men's letters. In particular, he mentions a Private Galvin whom Staniforth says is "an honest soul who invariably concludes his laborious epistles to the wife of his bosom with the parting words 'God protect you from your lovin husbin [sic]'".
Staniforth's letters are a very interesting read. They are of course from a son at the front to his parents, so are possibly made cheery so as not to worry them at the time, and certainly glossing over some of the things that he saw. As regards his soldiers, certainly, he was fond of the men of the Leinsters (and Connaughts) and they were clearly fond of him.
After the war, Max Staniforth worked on railways in Argentina, drawing on his WWI experiences with train transport, then as a radio announcer in France and finally as a Church of England clergyman. I do wish I had met him.
Reviewed by Trevor Adams
Format: PB, ISBN: 9780718893217
Format: EPUB, ISBN: 9780718841652
This, already justly famous, book first appeared in 1978, was reprinted with a short up-dating of the bibliography in 1996, and now appears with further bibliography to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War. In this year when every aspect of the war has been addressed from every possible angle, and when the study of the links between the war and religion, and between religion and motivations / morale, is a recognised specialisation within modern history (one has only to think of the work of Connolly, The Great War: Memory and Ritual, or Michael Snape's many books) it can be quite hard to think back to the mid-70s when this book was written. Despite the work of John Terraine (eg Haig: the Educated Soldier (1963)), the dominant historical preferences of that time were those of Alan Clark's The Donkeys (1961), while there was a widespread feeling that the 'The Great War' was receding into the distant past of 'ancient silliness.' More generally, the cultural climate took its cue from Oh! What a Lovely War (stage, 1963; film, 1969) which was scathing about religion as an opium by which fools were duped into a useless war and which was wholly tin-eared when it came to hearing the irony and complexity in the relationship between religion and individual soldiers. Moreover, apart from very narrow studies (one thinks of the Revd George Duncan's study of Haig (1966)), there was almost nothing examining the role of religion in the war or the impact of the war on religiosity and Christian belief in Britain. On to this stage came Wilkinson's book which was, at once, far more sophisticated in its understanding of the complexity of the war, and equally at home in understanding how religion 'works' in a modern society and in the internal tensions that the war created for Christians at the time. The book broke new ground, and could be said to be the forerunner of much, if not all, of the subsequent studies of religion and the war, chaplains and the war, and the aftermath of the war for religion in Britain. Therefore, since it is not a book that one often sees in second-hand book stores, I am delighted that it is back in print.
Reading it again – after many years – I am glad to report that it has 'worn very well.' There are many areas where today we are far better informed, and, of course, we no longer write with that immediacy which came from being able to talk with veterans and engage with the living memory of those who took part in the war – a source of information that this book uses extensively. So is it still worth reading? I think there are four good reasons for doing so:
Faced with a re-print Wilkinson just gave one page of further bibliography – a token amount – in this edition. This in itself shows how Wilkinson sees the scene now: there is so much being written, only a bibliographer could hope to note it all; so he took the wise path and merely pointed out that this is an on-going area of research. But amidst all that more recent work, this book retains its freshness, and above all shows that in the very different world of a century ago Christianity, whether it was liked or loathed, was a significant factor in the lives of those who went to war, and that without some sympathetic understanding of that religious dimension we ignore a part of our history.
Reviewed by Thomas O'Loughlin
Professor of Historical Theology
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of Nottingham
Frontline Books is to be thanked for reissuing this important out of print account by the German commander in charge during most of the major battles the High Seas Fleet engaged in during World War I, including the famed Battle of Jutland. This account sheds useful light on the motivations behind the actions and methods employed by the High Seas Fleet before being ultimately interned after the war at Scapa Flow. Not only does the book provide an accurate documentary (from the German perspective) about the movements and actions of the German Navy during important engagements like Helgoland and Dogger Bank, it also gives us details about other little known German naval actions.
Even if it were to impart little else of historic value (and that is certainly not the case), this volume reveals the extent of the German military's (and this German high commander's in particular) anger at the way they believed their naval forces were unfairly dealt with by the British, and later the American navies. To the bitter end (and the end was indeed bitter) Scheer and those around and above him, never seemed able to fully grasp that naval warfare had evolved since the great battles of the 18th and 19th centuries, fought as they were then on the high seas between ships of the line!
Scheer never lessens in his outrage at the British Grand Fleet's refusal to fight him by sending out small forces to engage his warships a few at a time, so that his less formidable fleet could attempt to reduce their fleet to a size comparable to his own. He thought this plan would win the naval war for Germany, regardless of the successes of his submarine service, but his plan was repeatedly thwarted by the British tactic of using fleets of overwhelming force instead. Angered by this, he repeatedly implies that the British behaved in a cowardly manner and only avoided the German fleet out of fear they would be outgunned by Scheer's better-trained crews. However, his insistence that when British and German ships were of equal size and numbers his navy would always prevail, did not hold true on most occasions when the opposing sides actually met.
The British refusal to fight on his terms embittered Scheer, and doubtless contributed to his determination that his book about the German naval side of the conflict be published before most other accounts were written after the war ended. It was clearly a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation as a great naval commander despite Germany's humiliating loss.
Reading his account, one also feels his palpable disgust directed at the allies (and some cases the German High Command) as the naval war turned more and more against Germany. It clearly galled Scheer that his vaunted High Seas Fleet became more and more irrelevant, with only his submarine service hindering the British war effort at sea. Ominously Scheer's insistence of having been victimized by unfair tactics used by the allies echoes the all too familiar calls of a later generation of Germans for a future rematch-which we now know does occur 20 years later.
Of course no book by a German naval commander of Scheer's stature would be complete without reveling in the High Seas Fleet's great victory at Jutland (Skagerrak as the Germans called it). Despite having taken the brunt of damage and loss of tonnage in every other engagement with the Grand Fleet prior to Jutland, there is no question that, in strict terms of tonnage sunk and lives lost, the Germans somehow won the Battle of Jutland.
Although we now know there were many factors that allowed the Germans to emerge from Jutland perceived by many as the victors, ranging form weather, pure luck, and previously unknown defects in British battle cruiser designs, Scheer had a simpler take on the battle:
"Success was achieved due to the eagerness in attack, the efficient leadership through subordinates, and the admirable deeds of the crews full of an eminently warlike spirit"!
Jutland was truly the high water mark for the German Navy during the war so Scheer can be forgiven a bit of patriotic hyperbole. Unfortunately for Scheer, the German Naval effort seemed to go downhill after Jutland, a situation that led Germany to the desperate act of beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917. This was the move that ultimately brought the US into the war.
Sensing the limitations of his fleet of surface ships to prevail against the larger British Fleet, ever since the Battle of Jutland, Scheer agitated to all who would listen, up to and including the Kaiser, for beginning unrestricted submarine warfare against British bound shipping, which he became convinced was the only way that Germany could win the war.
While this tactic proved to be the folly that sealed Germany's ultimate doom, he never admitted his advice was incorrect and his analysis of the events leading up to the historic decision to beginning unrestricted submarine warfare was fascinating reading.
There is a great deal more useful information in the book covering many aspects of the German Navy up to and including the mutinies of 1918 that virtually ended the involvement of the German Navy in the war effort. The chapter explaining how Zeppelins were under the control of the German Navy and the ways the Navy found to use them provided a lot of new information about the contributions airships made to the German Navy for this historian.
Although of necessity most of the focus of this book involves very useful backstories about The German Navy during the war, there is much in this volume to interest any historian of the Great War who wishes to learn more about German ambitions, methods, and motivations.
Reviewed by Richard A Orr
US WWI Historian
St Charles Mo USA
The History Press, £25
240 pages, colour and black and white illustrations
ISBN 978 0 7524 9188 2
What's in a title? Often a great deal and the title itself can contribute significantly to a popular book's potential success. Given the titles of this and another recent addition to the literature of the Home Front, "The Huns have got my gramaphone", first impressions can be misleading.
Publishers are notorious for giving their books misleading titles though authors should resist their worst excesses. Clearly Lucinda Gosling did not resist enough. The title of her book is hugely misleading. It suggests a general history of the war on the Home Front when it is, largely, a survey of middle and upper-class women's magazines of the period all taken from a single, though extensive, source the Mary Evans Picture Library of which the author has been an historical specialist since 2007. The Introduction, somewhat indirectly, sets out that the book will be a view of the war through the lens of magazines such as The Tatler, The Sketch and The Sphere but a simple, upfront, statement would have helped.
If one puts aside this initial problem how does the book fare in its more modest task? The results are mixed.
Many of the copious illustrations are newly published; the Kitchener and Jellicoe ladies garters are extraordinary and, on her own ground, the chapters on fashion and royalty are the best examples, Gosling is an informative and interesting writer. But even here she doesn't go much beyond simple narrative; there is no attempt to draw wider conclusions. For example she might easily have made more about the Royal family's involvement in the war. 1914-18 was the period during which 'modern' royalty as we know it was invented with its members doing 'real' jobs and the King and Queen inventing the royal walkabout.
At the other end of the scale the chapter on Charity and Fundraising is the most flawed. Imagine a review of Britain's military contribution to the war which didn't mention the Somme or Passchendaele. There is no mention of the extensive and hugely successful coordination of charitable activity through Sir Edward Ward, the Director General of Voluntary Organisations, or of government intervention with the War Charities Act. In mentioning 'Our Day' Gosling fails to say that it was the annual highlight of The Times campaign in aid of the Red Cross which raised a staggering £16 million. The limited sources of Gosling's research leads her into support for the totally outdated view that charitable causes were the exclusive territory of the middle and upper classes which, especially later in the war, is an entirely mistaken view.
Inevitably there are some fascinating insights into the war and, more especially, the British class system and, as a study of a specific group of primary sources, the book is a welcome addition to our understanding of the home front. Unfortunately by masquerading as something more, at least in the way presented by the publishers, Great War Britain fails its wider remit.
Reviewed by Dr Peter Grant
Bodleian Library Publishing, £8.99,
112 pages, 50 black and white illustrations.
ISBN 978 1 85124 399 0
The Huns have got my Gramophone is a modest endeavour, a light-hearted selection of adverts from the war period.
Conversely, however, it is a far more comprehensive and revealing study of the Home Front than Gosling's "Great War Britain: The First World War at Home". The writers do an admirable job given the limitations of the book's 110 pocket-sized pages and the wide-ranging nature of their examples. Quite rightly they see the period as one of rapid innovation in advertising, yet another aspect of everyday life where the war contributed to change, and their examples are carefully chosen and juxtaposed.
Many of the adverts are remarkably modern, like those for Venn's women's underwear. There are some fascinating facts such as Haig's views on motor transport or the number of miners who became officers (1,016) as well as some real revelations.
The authors highlight that, but for the war, there would have been no Rolls Royce aero engines or Bentley cars for example. But my favourite is the birth of 'unisex' clothing which, to some extent, confirms the view that the war contributed to positive changes for women. A great little book.
Reviewed by Dr Peter Grant
This is the story of the author as a boy from when he joined Kitchener's Army, as one of the first in 1914, until Armistice Day, November 1918. There have been many participants' recollections of this kind and having read several of them this is one that particularly stands out for me.
When reading these books one obviously tries to put oneself in a similar position as a very young man entering into and enduring trench warfare on the Western Front. This is an informal plain every-day tale but probably comes nearer to telling the truth than other tales. It is quite comprehensive in fact, in the description of the training, the horrors of the trenches, the lack of food, the stenches and constant noise. One can believe the sort of numbness he and his comrades felt as they ploughed on through the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.
This book also has an introduction by John Terraine outlining the areas where and circumstances by which he fought, and in doing so explains some of the extreme bravery.
A minor classic.
Lieutenant Martin's Letters is written by his niece, Anne McCosker. It provides an account of the military service of a young Queenslander, Fred Martin, who served in the 9th and 10th Battalions of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) between 1914 and 1917. The book has been assembled from Fred Martin's letters, written to relatives in Australia, together with the author's background research including her personal experience of living in New Guinea and more recently in the Weymouth area, the UK wartime location of a substantial Australian military camp and hospital.
Fred Martin, the son of a schoolteacher, was born in 1895 in South Kolan, Queensland, north of Brisbane. Following a 1910 report by Lord Kitchener on Australia's defence needs, the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia instituted a system of compulsory military training for all males aged between 12 and 26, which included drill, rifle practice, first aid and physical exercise, in which Fred participated. In 1913 he joined the part-time 2nd Battalion of the Royal Queensland Regiment (also known as the Kennedy Regiment), originally formed some decades earlier as a citizen's militia. Immediately after the declaration of War, the Government received a request from London to seize German wireless stations in several Pacific island locations including Rabaul, New Guinea. Martin, with others in his Battalion, arrived at Port Moresby on 18 August but their onward journey was terminated by a combination of mutiny by the firemen on the troopship and recognition that the 'part-time' soldiers were inexperienced and lacking in equipment.
In January 1915, back in Australia, Martin voluntarily enlisted for service in the AIF, joining the 9th Battalion. Promoted to Sergeant in March 1915 he embarked with the 5th reinforcements in April, arriving at Alexandria on 26 May. By the end of June he had landed at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, where he stayed until being evacuated on medical grounds to Malta in September 1915 and then to Birmingham Hospital where he received treatment for enteric fever before transferring in late December to Weymouth for convalescence. It was not until the end of August 1916 that he managed to regain his health sufficiently to achieve his desired move to the Western Front, receiving a Military Medal for his part in action near Guedecourt on 24/25 February 1917. This was followed by promotion to 2nd-Lieutenant, transfer to the 10th Battalion AIF, and action in the "Battle of Polygon Wood" (September 1917).
The book is very much the personal story of Fred Martin, rather than the bigger picture of AIF involvement in the War. The author has concentrated on her strengths: Martin's family history, her familiarity with New Guinea, and her personal experience of being an Australian living in Britain (albeit in a later era). Using transcripts of Martin's letters, she has added relevant information from his service records (which on occasion differ from the detail of Martin's own account), and has included transcripts or photographs of relevant newspaper cuttings. I usually enjoy the accounts of experiences of individual servicemen and this was no exception, although on occasion, editing and proof-reading could have been improved. Unfortunately, while the images on the front cover are of excellent quality, many of the images used in the text have not survived the printing process in very good shape. Some newspaper cuttings and other documents are also too small or faint to be read easily in their entirety.
Reviewed by Chris Payne