Strauss House Publications (2014)
Paperback; 36pp; extensive colour illustrations
There is a great deal of evidence to show that young children learn to read and understand words through rhyme (DES 2013) and repetition (Mercer 2000). Identifying patterns of rhythm, rhyme and sounds within texts is an important aspect of early years education, particularly, when children are first learning to read.
'Where the Poppies Now Grow' is a delightful rhyme about the First World War, highlighting the tragedy and valour associated with combat. It is taken from the perspective of two small boys, friends in 1909, who enjoy playing together in 'the field where the poppies now grow'. The boys grow up and are on the battlefield 'barren and stark', where one of them is 'left to die in the cold and the dirt'. The other risks his life to save a fellow soldier, who turns out to be his childhood friend. Comparisons with the song Two Little Boys are inevitable but this does not detract from a very important message about courage and empathy.
The illustrations are superb, particularly those depicting the trenches, with the dark skies suggesting the brooding menace of warfare. Humour is evident, too, with a little mouse which follows the comrades through to old age. Children will enjoy searching the pages for this character, which cheekily appears in unexpected places. Children will also enjoy filling in the blank spaces, when an adult or more confident reader reads the rhyme to them. Rhyming words like 'hurt and dirt' or 'dark and stark' are repeated through the book and clearly emphasise the fearful elements of trench warfare.
I am sure that children in the 3-7 years age group will enjoy this book, and it will prepare them, with an early foundation, for learning about the First World War.
Wendy J Thompson BEd MA
ISBN 978 1 84884 783 4
Publisher: Pen and Sword 31 March 2013 240 pages including maps and illustrations
When I signed up to provide a book review for the Western Front Association I was curious as to what book I would receive, given the information I had provided on my area of interest. However, when I received Jon and Jerry's book I was mildly surprised and, to be honest, quite happy as I had already purchased the book and indeed had used it on a previous tour to the Ypres Salient in April of this year, conducting two walks from its pages (Kitchener's Wood – page 62 and Ieper Town and Ramparts – page 146).
However, I did wonder what this book could add to the many guides already published (although I had taken the plunge and purchased it). Again, I was surprised. The book itself is well laid out and traces the front line, as the title suggests, from Nieuwpoort to Ploegsteert, providing a brief historical overview and the usual guide to visiting the front in Belgium. The authors are both well established guides and authors and their knowledge is self-evident in the narratives of each tour they describe.
Each tour begins with a brief description and context of the area, explaining the whys and wherefores of the area. Coordinates, distance to be travelled and grade of the tour are all clearly laid down so one can easily understand what is ahead. My only complaint would be the maps. Whilst accurate and easily understood, they are a little basic and I would recommend using them alongside established maps (indicated at the beginning of each tour).
All the routes include photographs – both new and old – and a detailed description of the actions and areas of interest one will pass during a given tour. Visits to CWGC cemeteries are included, along with notable and interesting burials. The guide also includes details of numerous museums in the area, where to find VC winners and further reading recommendations.
Jon and Jerry's book is a well researched, easy to read and understand guide; it is a welcome addition to any Battlefield Tourist collection of the Ypres Salient. I for one will be using it again and again and I look forward to their next venture which, I believe, is focused on the Somme.
Reviewed by Ian T Hodkinson. IGBG Member 437
Pen and Sword 304 pages
1914-1918 An Eyewitness to War, is a notable addition to Pen and Sword's "Military History from Primary Sources" series of books that has served students of military history seeking accounts by those who actually witnessed historic events as they happened - or shortly thereafter. This compilation of personal accounts by actual observers at the scenes of important sites and events during the Great War by noted, award winning author and historian Bob Carruthers, is a valuable addition to this series.
Carruther's choice of accounts by these four authors in this compilation is inspired and makes this book an engrossing educational tool for anyone seeking the details and personal insights often missing in usual historical narratives of the war. The archaic, flowery writing form used by most writers at the beginning of the last century - including these - may put off some readers but the period style adds to the feeling that one is learning from those who were actually there.
It's also worth noting that these accounts show very well that the First World War may be the last true "Poets War" dating from a time when classic poetry was taught from grammar school through college and was used often in those days to express emotions felt by soldiers facing death daily, by a means no other form of communication can still effectively convey.
One criticism of the book might be the lack of biographical background on some of the writers, that might allow readers to fully comprehend the roles they played in their reporting on the war. But that's a minor omission and such background is easily obtained elsewhere. It was easy to learn, for instance, that the Arnold Bennett who authored the insightful opening account "War Scenes on the Western Front" was actually noted British novelist, Enoch Arnold Bennett. Bennett's literary fame caused him to be tasked with writing about the vast battlefields and horrifically ruined cities such as Rheims, Ypers, and Arras, and the high morale of the Belgians, French and British troops.
Bennett, a novelist by trade, should be forgiven for being quite prolific in his use of archaic prose, as he faithfully discharges his duty as official French "Director of Propaganda". Intent on building allied morale, he greatly overpraises the spirit and accomplishments of the allies, while excessively denigrating the behavior of the enemy. His great devotion to the French cause, while obvious, does not seem however to have prevented him from reporting conditions accurately. His first hand accounts of the war-ravaged French countryside, hidden artillery emplacements, vast trench systems [historians may wish to note that he praises the quality and cleanliness of French trenches to a higher degree than most], and airdromes with canvas hangars, are all invaluable historic accounts of life and conditions on the Western Front.
Bennett so hated witnessing the damage wrought on beautiful French cities by German offensives, he wrote " to the end of my life I shall feel cheated if Cologne...is not in fact ultimately reduced to the same condition". One cannot help but wonder what Bennett would have thought - had he lived to see it - when his prophetic wish came true and beautiful Cologne, except for the great cathedral, was indeed devastated by allied bombing in the next war.
The next featured writer, the Austrian Fritz Kriesler, is another fascinating participant in the war and one for whom biographical information was helpfully provided. It's interesting to know that, after being seriously wounded in action against the Russians and discharged from the army, he left Austria and eventually emigrated to the United States, where he became one the most beloved and famous violinists of modern times.
Kriesler's essay tells vividly of the life and harsh conditions endured by the officers and troops of the Central Powers on the Russo-Austrian front, an often overlooked but important corner of the Great War. In a moving narrative style, Kriesler gives a detailed picture of the life of the average Austrian soldier as he fights an eventually overwhelming Russian force. He focuses on the human side of the war and as his account contains memorable quotes such as, "the salient feature of these three days' fighting was the extraordinary lack of hatred. ...it is astonishing how little actual hatred exists between fighting men...One still shoots his opponent, but almost regrets when he sees him drop."
"They Shall Not Pass" is a gripping period account by American journalist Frank H Simonds who describes in detail the French side of the great Battle of Verdun. Simonds uses a prosaic style of writing, too uncommon today in my view, when he compares the destruction he witnesses on the way to Verdun as:
...villages abandoned partially or wholly, contemporary Pompeiis, overtaken by the Vesuvius of Krupp"! His description of the movement of men and materiel towards Verdun is also striking. "You felt unconsciously...that you are looking, ...not upon separate trucks, but upon some vast, intricate system of belts...swiftly, surely carrying all this vast materiel...everything human and inanimate, to that vast grinding mill which was beyond the hills. [Verdun].
His account also serves to remind us of the high regard in which France once held General Petain, the hero of Verdun. Simonds adoringly writes: "...in France today one speaks only of Verdun and Petain." At that time no one could have imagined that within 25 years an aged and deluded Petain would become a traitor and Nazi collaborator, who at one point was sentenced to death by the post WWII French government. But throughout the Great War, France had no greater hero.
Finally the last section of the book, one of the longest and my personal favorite, is the account by Irish artist William Orpen who, as an official British war painter, visited and painted many scenes throughout the western front during the war and after, up to and including the actual signing of the Treaty of Versailles. He had a wry sense of humor and his essay is illustrated with many of his excellent paintings of important places and players during the war. He also includes several moving poems about the war, such as the incredibly moving, "Memory of the Somme-Spring 1917".
Orpen is at his best when he writes of the machinations and political wranglings by pompous politicians and statesmen at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. He describes the event as lacking the expected decorum and "in the end, the signing of the great treaty, had not as much dignity as a sale at Christie's!"
I am sure readers looking for insights from those who actually witnessed these important aspects of the Great War will enjoy this book.
Reviewed by Richard A Orr, US Military Historian
Pen and Sword 2013 258pp 70 plates and 14 maps
This author knows his stuff and he loves his subject. Andrew Jackson is a proud native of Accrington, Lancashire and creator of the comprehensive (and excellent) Accrington Pals website www.pals.org.uk.
The result of over 30 years' interest and research, this book, Jackson's narrative of the Pals in the First World War is, however, more than simply a detailed account of the well-known 11th East Lancashire Battalion, albeit a tale deserving of the re-telling. The clue is in where Jackson places the apostrophe. 'Accrington's Pals' tells the story of the Accrington Pals infantry battalion and the other pals - their chums in the much less well-known 158th (Accrington and Burnley) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (Howitzers). The contribution of the Howitzers has been overlooked by military historians: Jackson's book is a major contribution to redressing this omission.
Both units were raised by Accrington's Conservative mayor, (in some ways, the key character in this story), the 65 year old Captain John Harwood. Harwood's biographical details are captured in the opening chapter. We might now regard being sent out to work at the age of 7 as somewhat harsh but John survived this and he went on to marry, and, after a brief sojourn to America, made a successful career in the cotton industry in India (where he also became a captain in the Volunteer Rifle Corps.) A self-made Victorian man, Harwood then retired to Accrington at the early age of 50 to pursue a career in local politics. Sixteen years later, Britain was on the verge of war. "Why not Accrington?" was the response of Harwood (by now a leading local politician) to Kitchener's call to arms. Harwood became a supporter of the Derby scheme which promised that men who enlisted together would serve together and he began recruiting for the Pals from Monday, 14 September 1914 and the Howitzers from early February 1915. Although it was an enthusiasm that he appears later to have come to regret, he was soon able to enlist 1,000 men from Accrington, Blackburn, Burnley and Chorley to volunteer for Army service. Barely six months later Harwood was again successful in encouraging local men "of the Mechanic Class" to volunteer for the Howitzers. Inexplicably, the war efforts of this (Conservative) local politician were never rewarded by the (Liberal) government of the time.
Jackson's book is at its most engaging and dramatic when it draws on the diaries, memoirs and letters from men in both the Pals and the Howitzers, to describe the realities of the major campaigns on the Western Front. Chapters headed by quotations from these accounts give gripping descriptions of the East Lancashire units in action. They are interspersed with shorter chapters outlining the course of the war. In some cases these help to bring in to the narrative one or two individuals who would later play important roles with the Pals and Howitzers.
Chapter 8, for example, introduces the reader to 'A Most Colourful Personality' in the shape of Percy Fawcett, a Woolwich graduate, experienced in secret service operations and a keen exponent of the Ouija board, who took command of the CLVIII brigade (the Howitzers) in January 1916. Chapter 9 is a rather longer introduction to 'Some' colonel, Arthur Rickman, commander of the Pals. Chapters 11 to 20, from the arrival of the Pals in France on 8 March 1916 through to the cessation of hostilities on 11 November 1918, give graphic details of the major battles in which the Pals and the Howitzers fought, including the Somme. In these chapters, it is the men's own accounts that are both vivid and compelling.
The penultimate chapter focuses on remembrance. In popular memory, it is the Accrington Pals battalion that is as the author says, in a "selective remembrance" that is "best known and best commemorated," not least for the heavy losses on the first day of the Somme. He hopes that his story of the Howitzers will help to redress the balance. It does.
The final chapter is an epilogue. This begins with an excerpt from a military tribunal on which John Harwood served and in which he appears to have been fairly brusque is his treatment of conscientious objectors. It's useful to have this snippet. It's as a clear clue to Harwood's character and one of the few extracts of a military tribunal to have survived the government's instructions at the end of the war to have all such records destroyed. The chapter then concludes with brief biographical portraits of the book's personalities.
Thirty pages of notes provide comprehensive details of the sources used by Jackson and there is a useful index. At significant points in the text, clearly drawn maps illustrate battle lines: the Somme, Serre, Oppy-Gavrelle, Ypres, Lys, La Becque, Warnave, Ploesgsteert and those in the final weeks of the war.
There are a few reservations in recommending this as a very good read. Whether it is, as the sub-title boldly claims, the "full story" of Accrington's Pals can only be left for time to pass judgement. Perhaps Chapter Three might benefit from a little reworking for a second edition. The use of sub-headings here was a little irritating and the issue of the men's motivation for volunteering would benefit from more discussion. And why throughout the text use Latin numerals for the Howitzers when the title page uses the more accessible "158th"?
Reviewed by Richard Benefer
ISBN 978 0 7524 5332 3
Spellmount paperback edition, 2009. 351pp, illustrations, maps.
Most WFA members will be aware of the Zeebrugge Raid of St George's Day 1918 and some will even possess or have read Paul Kendall's book. Nevertheless, it is worth bringing the book to the attention of those who are not aware of it, especially since it is still in print.
What led the author to embark on his six years of research into the raid was an enquiry by a French military historian friend, whose grandfather had witnessed the aftermath of the equally famous St Nazaire raid of March 1942, which bore striking similarities to that at Zeebrugge. Kendall has also devoted time to looking at the German side and the result is some most useful material on the history of the Flanders U-boat flotilla, which was based at Bruges and used the canals running to Zeebrugge and Ostend to exit to the sea.
Hence the plan evolved to block the entrances of these canals through sinking ships in them. The author describes how the plan was developed and the preparations for the raid. He also provides an interesting appraisal of Roger Keyes, the driving force behind the operation.
The tale of the raid on Zeebrugge is told in graphic but accurate detail and one really does get a feel of what it was like on both sides. The operation itself was only partially successful, in that the Flanders Flotilla and surface vessels were still able to operate from Bruges and did so until withdrawn in October as a result of the final Allied advance in Flanders.
Thereafter, Paul Kendall devotes some one hundred pages to potted biographies of those who took part in the raid. This certainly reinforces the human aspect of the book. He also includes appendices on British killed and wounded, awards, and U-boat casualties from the Flanders Flotilla throughout the war.
Paul Kendell has certainly carried out some very thorough research and presented it in most readable form. There is also a large collection of photographs, many of which I have not seen before. It is, however, not a definitive account, mainly because he makes so little mention of Ostend, both the subsidiary operation on 23 April and the subsequent operation against the port less than three weeks later and during which HMS Vindictive, the hero of the Zeebrugge raid, was sunk as a blockship. The reproductions of the two old plans of Zeebrugge Harbour and mole are also not easy to read; the book would have benefitted from fresh maps, including one showing the overall plan. Nevertheless, The Zeebrugge Raid does add to our knowledge and is well worth reading.
Reviewed by Charles Messenger
Edited by David Read
The History Press, 2012 160pp
This delightful book contains the diary and sketches of Henry Buckle, a lance corporal in the 1/5 Gloucestershires. Originally a whitesmith from Tewkesbury, he had been a pre-war Territorial, re-enlisting on the outbreak of war. He was in France between March and October 1915, when a trench collapsed upon him and he was discharged from the Army during the summer of 1915.
During his time in the Army he kept a diary full of wry observations about Army organisation (or lack of it) and the joys and occasional sadness of service overseas.
He was also an amateur painter – cartoonist might be a better description – painting the world he saw around him. What his sketches lack in technical skill, they more than make up for in atmosphere. He regularly sent the sketches back to his wife and daughter, often providing descriptions.
This is not a book to show the horrors of war. Buckle was too aware of censorship and the need not to frighten his family. Instead it shows the small pleasures that many men took from companionship with their comrades and seeing a world very different from the one they knew.
The book also has an unusually high production value, being full colour throughout, with an informative introduction by David Read of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, and a forward from the former England cricketer and painter Jack Russell.
It represents excellent value and would make an excellent Christmas stocking filler.
Reviewed by Simon Fowler.
Written by E J Hounslow; Forward by Professor Ian Beckett
ISBN 978 0 7424 9899 7
Date of Publication: 2013
Publisher Spellmount (an imprint of The History Press) 192 pp, includes photographs and maps
Initially, when my copy of this book arrived I read the cover and thought the subject matter extremely specific and pre-judged the content as being yet another 'this is what my relative did in the Great War'. How wrong I was!
Although the book is centred on the whereabouts of the Royal Bucks Hussars during the Great War and the involvement of the author's grandfather, he has cleverly expanded the remit and offers a fascinating insight into life in a Yeomanry cavalry regiment. Opening with a brief history of how and why Yeomanry regiments were formed, including the Peterloo riots, the training and even explaining the type of horses selected for cavalry regiments, the overview quickly moves on to his grandfather and the preparations for war.
The necessity to keep the attention of the reader throughout the book has been shrewdly adhered to and the book provides an excellent overview of campaigns, as well as the training and events in which the Bucks Hussars were involved. Although initially perceived as weekend warriors as part of the Territorial Force, the Bucks Hussars establish their credentials in the best way possible - by their actions.
Gallipoli, via a rough sea voyage to Egypt, why Turkey entered the war on the side of Germany is explained and the campaign coverage is easy to follow. The actions in which the Bucks Hussars fought are covered in an even handed way including their first action: the attack (on foot) across the Salt Lake on Chocolate Hill, though dry brush set on fire by artillery fire. The action isn't restricted to war diary entries; newspaper reports of the action and even letters home from medical and other officers add depth to the account.
The day to day existence during the Gallipoli campaign offers a personal insight into the lives of those involved – the heat, smell and millions of flies that contributed to a high sickness and fatality rate, which included the author's grandfather.
After an evacuation to Egypt, the Bucks Hussars settled into an aggressive defence of the Suez Canal. A very different experience from Gallipoli and a new set of problems, not least of which was the sheer logistics and restrictions on cavalry actions that resulted from the scarcity of water for both men and horses. Cavalry action against the Senussi tribesmen on the Western side of the Suez included charges in the 'old style' and a precursor of how cavalry would be used in 1918, as fast moving mobile infantry on the Western Front.
The arrival of General Allenby and the political goal of capturing Jerusalem by Christmas 1917, as well as the Battles for Gaza, are approached from a cavalry point of view: horses and men trained to survive on less water, for example, is explained as a crucial factor in final success at Gaza, despite the determined defence by Turkish troops, who made the mistake of running from cavalry charges, thereby providing excellent targets for the slashing troopers; had they stood firm in their trenches they would not have been overrun. As well as the success at Jerusalem, the book covers in an understated way what is officially regarded as the last major cavalry charge by the British Army at El Maghar by the 6th Mounted Brigade. The Bucks Hussars' involvement in this action is covered, as are the other cavalry regiments. What is also included are several references to the impact of such a charge across open country on both British and Turkish soldiers.
Although the desert successes are compared to the stagnant warfare of the Western Front, the overall picture portrayed is one of mobility and the conclusion that, when given the opportunity to fulfil the role for which they had trained, all the cavalry in the desert campaigns acquitted themselves well. This goes some way to correcting the 'illusion' that cavalry was only effective when the last machine gun had been silenced. The fascinating book "Horsemen in No Man's Land" by David Kenyon puts forward a strong argument that, although mistakes were made in the use of cavalry on the Western Front, they came into their own during the German Spring Offensive – horses can move faster than men and cavalry moved to block breakthroughs and halt German attacks time and again. This fact comes across in Fighting For The Bucks: cavalry were not an anachronism.
The trials of the Bucks Hussars did not end in Egypt. On the voyage home their troopship was sunk. Once again, the author includes a depth of research that adds to the story, explaining how the captain insisted that drills were practised for abandoning ship prior to departure. Torpedoed off Gibraltar, the crew and troops were rescued by a Japanese destroyer and HMS Lily. Captain Holl went down with his ship.
Eventually arriving at Etaples training camp in June 1918, the Bucks Hussars' final actions are centred on their involvement during the German Spring Offensive; their role changed to machine guns and an infantry role in preparation for the 'all arms' push against the Germans, once their manpower and materiel had been exhausted.
This book nominally follows the exploits of a relative, yet provides a smoothly written, overall approach to the subject, topics and campaigns. The appraisals of events such as the start of the war, and the fighting in Gallipoli and Egypt, provide a comprehensive background without getting bogged down in the minutiae. These events are cleverly brought back to the involvement of the author's grandfather and how they affected the Royal Bucks Hussars. It is extremely well written and edited and comes across as not just a labour of love, but also a valuable contribution to the oft derided involvement of cavalry in the Great War.
Reviewed by Richard Pursehouse
Publisher and Date of Publication: Pen and Sword Military 2012 215 pp. with 63 black and white illustrations (16 Plates).
The Live Man's VC
Readers whose military interests are solely restricted to The Great War might be disappointed to find that only about 40 of the 215 pages in this book are devoted to awards of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) during that campaign. However, for those with wider interests, the book's strength and fascination is in the picture that it conveys of heroism in the British Army, from the Crimean War (when an award equivalent to the DCM was first instituted) to the 1990-1991 Gulf War and the military actions against the IRA. In 1993 the award was terminated.
The author's approach has been to work chronologically through this 140 year period, covering the major campaigns as well as numerous 'side-shows'. Inevitably he has had to be selective in his choice of examples to illustrate the bravery and achievements of the recipients of the DCM and he makes this clear in his introduction.
For me, a particular strength of this very readable book, is the informed manner in which the individual actions described (that led to the award of a DCM), have been set succinctly within the wider political reasoning and military imperatives that had sent British forces into armed conflict in the first place. This applies equally to the major conflicts (eg Crimean War, Great War and Second World War) and to the smaller campaigns (eg the Anglo-Ashanti wars in the 1880s, and the 1930s trouble spots of Palestine and the North West Frontier).
The sections devoted to the Great War include descriptions of specific DCM awards granted as a result of the early actions in 1914, including the Retreat from Mons and the first Battle of Ypres. Awards granted in 1915 included inspirational bravery during the Battle of Aubers Ridge, the Second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Loos. Descriptions of DCMs granted in 1916 and 1917, unsurprisingly, were predominantly associated with the Somme and Third Ypres. For 1918 the author has selected examples from the BEF's response to the German Spring Offensive but not, I was slightly disappointed to find, from the 'Last Hundred Days'. Where possible, the author has included the formal citation and (where available) the personal accounts of the recipients of the DCM. As usual, one is struck by the evidence that quite a few of the men, whose bravery made them deserved recipients of the DCM, struggled with aspects of Army discipline and civilian life.
The book's introduction clearly describes the history behind the introduction of the DCM and the wide range of criteria that were applied in its award. In addition, there is a useful final chapter for the family historians and medal collectors amongst us, plus a short bibliography and index. A one-page list of abbreviations would have been helpful for readers like myself but a 'translation' can generally be found by flicking through the pages.
Reviewed by Chris Payne
Written by Jerry Murland
Pen and Sword Military, an imprint of Pen & Sword Ltd, Barnsley, 2012
pp. 211 plus photographs, notes, two appendices and bibliography.
At its core, this book is a detailed unit-level account of BEF actions on the Aisne, from the arrival of the vanguard on the southern heights overlooking the valley during the evening of 12 September 1914, until the issue by GHQ of Operational Order No 26 at 8.30pm on the evening of 15 September, which not only "effectively signalled the beginning of positional warfare on the Aisne" but also, in the opinion of the author, marked the birth of the Western Front. But the book is much more than this.
The introduction and the first three chapters provide an absorbing overview of the trials and travails of the BEF, from its assembly in France during August 1914, until its arrival on the Aisne. It includes a summary of the deployment and movement of the German Army to "parry the blow" of the British and French armies on the Aisne, following its retreat from the Marne. The concluding chapters give an account of the early experience and learning of trench warfare; the experiences of the Sixth Division of the BEF on its later arrival on the Aisne on 19 September, having been released from its 'home guard' role in early September; the lessons learnt by the end of the Aisne, on the strategic and tactical use of artillery and aircraft; and the experiences of prisoners of war of both sides.
The final chapter covers the withdrawal of the BEF from the Aisne in early October, the distinct change in the nature of the fighting following the Aisne clashes, the heavy casualty toll on the Aisne (650 officers and 12,000 other ranks killed), the awards won - which included seven VCs - and a poignant telling of what subsequently happened to the principal characters whose diaries, letters and reports are referred to in the text. The author draws his own final line under the Aisne campaign in the last sentence of the book, which is a reflective quotation from an RAC volunteer driver: "The Aisne we had reached with such sanguine hopes twenty-one days before was still the high water mark of our advance".
At times, the account of the unit engagements in the key three days of mid-September reads like a ferocious and merciless adventure story. The brutality and intense confusion of the fighting on the formidable natural barrier formed by the river and the lower slopes of the Chemin des Dames - a barrier that the Germans had been given time to exploit - is brought out in forceful fashion in the many extracts from personal diaries and memoirs. The ruthlessness of the fighting is demonstrated by many 'white flag' incidents and the pandemonium is brought home by the numerous 'friendly fire' events. Readers who relish the fine detail of battles will be very impressed by the depth of the author's analysis; others might need to review the odd section here and there to fully digest episodes as they unfold. Maps are included but, as is often the case, they are the least detailed part of the narrative and reference to external maps is helpful, even to current large scale road maps of France.
Prior to a successful career in teaching, the author served in the Parachute Regiment and saw active service in the Middle East. In recent years he has written a number of books about the Great War, including at least one other on the Aisne. His military experience and the fruits of his research manifest themselves in a number of ways, not least in trenchant remarks that occur throughout the book, particularly as regards the planning, decision making (or lack thereof) and logistical support provided by GHQ. Perhaps the most notable comment is the one on the replacement of Sir John French by Sir Douglas Haig: "Ideally, this should have taken place before the BEF moved to Flanders".
I enjoyed this book. I am not usually an enthusiast of detailed battle accounts but the author blends the fine detail with interesting overviews of the BEF's journey to the Aisne, the immediate aftermath of the battle and insights into artillery and air tactics. Consideration of the experiences of prisoners of war adds a further engaging dimension. Throughout there is skilful and often moving use of unit war diaries and personal diaries and accounts. The appendices on the Order of Battle of the BEF in September 1914 and the 26 cemeteries north and south of the Aisne add to the picture. The depth of research, self-evident as it is in the text, is reinforced by the extensive notes and bibliography.
I have no hesitation in recommending it.
Reviewed by David Parmee
ISBN number: 9781781593073
Publisher and date: Pen and Sword Military (UK), 2013 167 pp Illustrations/maps
To quote Charles Bean, the official Australian war historian:
"In the history of war there is no more signal example of reckless obedience that that given by the dismounted light horsemen at The Nek when, after seeing the whole of the first attacking line mown down within a few yards by a whirlwind of rifle and machine-gun fire, the second, third and fourth lines each charged after its interval of time, at the signal of its leaders, to certain destruction"
On 7 August 1915, men from an Australian light horse regiment attacked well defended Turkish positions at the Nek, on the Gallipoli peninsula. They were slaughtered. This is a thought-provoking critique of the circumstances leading up to that ill-fated action, focusing not only on the personalities of the officers responsible for sending those men to their deaths, but also asking the question: why the attack was persisted with and not abandoned? Why are suicidal charges allowed to continue when all hope of success has been lost? This is an easy, albeit sad read, which can be easily completed over a weekend. Well researched by an author with impressive credentials who is said to have significant experience leading battlefield tours on behalf of the Australian War Memorial.
7 August 1915 was not the first time that the Nek had become a human abattoir. Earlier, on 29 June, the Turks had launched a similar attack on well defended Australian positions over the same space under similar, perilous conditions, with the same appalling results. Earlier still, on 19 May, troops from New Zealand were ordered to attack the Turkish lines at the Nek. Showing a degree of leadership and concern for the wellbeing of their men later apparently found to be lacking in the Australian officer corps, the New Zealand officers refused to comply with that order.
Mistakes made at the Nek were repeated a year later in northern France, at Fromelles, notably the loss of senior officers early on in the attack, thus leaving an immediate and dangerous gap in the command structure. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander White was among the first fatalities leading the Light Horsemen from the front at the Nek. Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Norris perished in similar circumstances leading the men of the 53rd Bn at Fromelles on 19 July 1916.
The charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek on 7 August 1915 has been immortalised in the painting of the same name by George Lambert and was the core story line in the 1981 film "Gallipoli", starring Mel Gibson and the late Bill Hunter.
Reviewed by Dick Kagi