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Book Reviews The First World War: join the Western Front Association, the premier organisation for study, learning and research into all aspects of The Great War 1914-18, and to understanding more about the phenomenon which shaped the 20th century http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews.html Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:04:00 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Great War by Field Marshal von Hindenburg http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3696-the-great-war-by-field-marshal-von-hindenburg.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3696-the-great-war-by-field-marshal-von-hindenburg.html great warAuthor: Field Marshal von Hindenburg, Edited by Charles Messenger.

Publisher: Frontline Books 2013,  236 pages plus five pages of maps before the Introduction, ISBN Number 978-1-84832-724-5

Illustrations: Other than a portrait on the front cover the edition does not have illustrations.

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg entitled his autobiography, "Out of my Life." He wrote it in 1918 in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, when the detail of the Great War was very fresh in his memory. Thus the writing provides an invaluable source of the strategic thinking of the German High Command during 1914 to 1918.

This book is an edition of that work, edited by the historian, Charles Messenger. The editor has abbreviated von Hindenburg's writing by some 30%, much of which the editor describes as "little more than a rant". However some of the excluded passages express his praise for the Kaiser, which I consider represent an important aspect of the Field Marshal's personality. von Hindenburg was the epitome of the Prussian Military officer class, created by King Frederick the Great.

The present work is divided into five parts and twenty-two well-structured chapters, with each chapter dealing with a small and carefully delineated portion of von Hindenburg's life.

Early Life

Paul von Hindenburg was born on 2 October 1847 in Posen, Prussia (later known as Poznan, Poland) into an aristocratic German family. He was the eldest of three sons and a daughter. His father was a lieutenant in the army and his mother the daughter of a surgeon-general. His parents, he says, gave him "a confident belief in our Lord God and a boundless love of the Fatherland...and our Prussian Royal House." He was educated at cadet schools in Wahlstatt, where energy and resolution were valued just as highly as knowledge. Prince (later King) visited the cadets while at Wahlstatt. In 1863 he was transferred to a special group and was transferred to Berlin. He was sad to miss the war with Denmark.

He was commissioned second-lieutenant in the third Regiment of Foot Guards, a regiment proud of its "feudal loyalty" to the king. He served in the Seven Weeks War against Austro-Hungary. He saw this, even at the time, as setting the question of supremacy between Austria and Prussia, following in the footsteps of Frederick the Great in 1747. He first saw military action at the Battle of Koniginhof and then Koniggratz, where he suffered a head wound, in 1866. Later he saw action again in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. A key event in his early life was the unification of Germany in 1871 under the King of Prussia, at which he represented his regiment, accompanied by a sergeant. During this campaign he saw Bismarck and notes with disappointment that he narrowly missed seeing the Emperor Napoleon. He enjoyed riding in Paris, which he entered under a Prussian flag, as there was as yet no German flag.

His Higher Military Training began when he sat for and passed entry to the Kriegsakademie. He was subsequently appointed to the General Staff in 1878. He married Gertrud von Sperling in 1879 while stationed at Stettin. His wife was the daughter of General von Sperling; they had three children, a boy and two girls. In 1881 he returned to regimental duties "commanding a unit recruited from Poles". Interestingly in 1885 he joined the Great General Staff department of Colonel Count von Schlieffen and also worked with von Falkenstein. The following year he met the prince destined to become William II.

Hindenburg taught for five years at the Kriegsakademie. He reached General rank in 1905, during an honourable but undistinguished military career. At the age of 64 Hindenburg might have expected to have hung up his sword for the last time.

Retirement to Recall

Between retirement and recall to the colours, Hindenburg describes some of his most defining characteristics: a lover of detail; a man who describes the advent of war as a call from "the All-Highest War Lord", the Emperor; as one who missed the affection of his subordinates; as one who feared French Chauvinism "allied with Russia or England or both". Hindenburg comments, "We had an excellent opportunity of realising the weakness of the Italian army in the war in Tripoli." He describes the outbreak of war as feeling "almost a release from the perpetual burden we had carried all our lives." "I waited in longing expectation" for recall."

1914 – 1918

In August 1914, Hindenburg was recalled to military service to lead the Eighth Army in Prussia. His famous meeting with Erich Ludendorff on the railway station at Hanover changed the world. Within half an hour the Prussian aristocrat and the Pomeranian, fresh from having distinguished himself with his brigade outside Liege, had established a long-lasting rapport. Ludendorff had just been briefed by Colonel-General von Moltke.

The Campaign in the East.

By mid-September 1914, serving on the Eastern Front, he had achieved national fame by inflicting two severe defeats on the Russian Army at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. Tannenberg, he saw as avenging the 500-year-old battle when the Slaves (Poles) had defeated the Teutonic army. (Later Ludendorff showed the site of the victory to Hitler.) At the Lakes Hindenburg estimates that the German army faced three million men under General Rennenkampf, while he had "scarcely one third of that." Hindenburg became a national hero in Germany. He was promoted to Field Marshal and given the sole command of the Eastern Front in November 1914.

Erich Ludendorff was a talented military strategist. It has been argued that credit for Ludendorff's invasion of Russia was misdirected to Hindenburg. Hindenburg describes their relationship "as being those of a happy marriage."

The Campaign in Poland

Briefly separated from Ludendorff, Hindenburg drove towards Silesia. He concentrated his troops north of Cracow. Hindenburg states that his aim was to tempt the Russians to attach the Prussians thus allowing the Austro-Hungarians to achieve victory. Hindenburg, like Napoleon before him, encountered mud. Hindenburg then faced what he estimated to be four Russian armies (totaling some sixty divisions, against eighteen German divisions) victory in Galicia was not achieved and the battlefield of Warsaw was abandoned to the Russians. The Austro-Hungarians failed to execute a strategy once completed brilliantly by Field-Marshal Blucher, which might have saved the situation for the Germans. Hindenburg's request or for reinforcements from the Ypres campaign were not granted. An intercepted Russian radio message revealed that an attack on Germany was imminent. Hindenburg in the Battle of Lodz again says that the numerical superiority of the Russians was the key factor.

Hindenburg considers that the reason victory eluded the German forces in 1915 is that a decision was taken "prematurely to draw away to the East strong forces from the West." Unlike Napoleon, Hindenburg considers it would have been possible to transport his army by railway, deep into Russia.

General Ludendorff had serious concerns about the Austro-Slavic Units. Hindenburg was concerned about the deterioration of the body politique of Austro-Hungary. He also was become ever more convinced that Russian numeric superiority was overwhelming. The winter campaign inflicted heavy casualties on Russia but still an attack on the Magyar homelands was feared but Hindenburg believes, convincingly, that this was prevented by his attack through Lithuania.

A visit by Grand Admiral Tirpitz confirmed Hindenburg in the view that the "sensitiveness of the English to the phantom of a German invasion would have justified" the use of the German navy.

In August 1916, Hindenburg was appointed Chief of the Greater German General Staff. This position gave him vast power even in the civil sphere. Hindenburg had a major input into the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia.

Western Front

Only at this stage does Hindenburg share his attention with the Western Front, well into the second half of this edition. He notes that shortage of men means that he cannot send reserves to Verdun and the Somme. Indeed he recommends that the Germans should break off the battle of Verdun, due to the exhaustion of the German troops. He comments that with hindsight it would have been better for Germany to have withdrawn from the ground "we had captured" but felt unable to recommend this at the time. He hoped that with the break off of the German offensive at Verdun the allies would confine themselves to trench warfare. Instead the French changed their artillery tactics with a short intensive barrage on the east bank of the Meuse.

"From the end of August the Somme battle too had taken on the character of an extremely fierce frontal contest of the forces of both sides." He contends that the "reason our western adversaries failed to obtain any decisive results must mainly be ascribed to a certain unimaginativeness in their generalship."

In September 1916, Hindenburg visited the Western Front. He attended a conference at Cambrai with the Crown Prince of Bavaria and Württemberg and the Chiefs of Staff on the Western Front. Their comments showed that rapid and ruthless action was urgently necessary. Hindenburg says that later discussion with field officers reported how effective the conference had been. He says, "It was only now that I fully realised all that the Western (German) Armies had done."

Hindenburg notes that at the Somme "the fearful spectre of this battlefield which for desolation and horror seemed even worse than that of Verdun."

English stubbornness is noted.

U-Boat Warfare

Hindenburg's views can be summarised by his comment that "In the pitiless blockade against our non-combatants at home ... everything else seemed callous ... towards our own flesh and blood."

Hindenburg was responsible for preparing the entire German state for war and became immensely popular throughout the country.

In 1917, after Austro-Hungarian headquarters had been moved to Baden and German headquarters to Kreuznach, German defensive strategy was significantly changed from single lines of strong points, to a network of lines and groups of strong points. This allowed German defences to resist artillery and to counter–attack all points regarded as essential after an attack, by means of these deep defensive lines. Numbers of machine guns were also increased.

In assessing the battle of Rheims, Hindenburg glories in Nivelle's failure to understand that his artillery had not destroyed or cowed German defences and not to realise that German deep defence allowed successful counter attack once Nivelle's infantry advanced. This tactic caused losses to the Allies at Arras; Soissons and Rheims.
Messines was a defeat, which Hindenburg attributes to topographical features. "The ground rose from beneath the feet of the (German) defenders."

Hindenburg then spends time again discussing the Eastern Front and the attack on Italy. He discusses the final blow to Russia and the brink of defeat of Italy. Before the Flanders campaign of the second half of 1917, he became aware that "...any considerable success of the English success might easily prejudice (the German) operations in other theatres. As we anticipated, England was now making her supreme effort ... in a great and decisive attack upon us even before the United States could in any way make itself felt."

Cambrai,  Hindenburg sees as a brilliant and successful concept by the "English High Command" but feels that failure in subordinate commanders allowed victory to be snatched from the British. Even so the threat of a great surprise attack by tanks became clear to Hindenburg. He accepts that the British tanks had been very greatly improved. The French were limited to local attacks because of their appalling losses in the spring.

Hindenburg considers the Turkish situation of von Falkenhayn and the loss of Baghdad.

1918

Given that Italy had been convincingly beaten and Russia and Romania were out of the war Hindenburg, with numerical superiority of armed strength focuses on the Western Front. He considers that Germany can "concentrate an immense force to overwhelm the enemy's lines at some point on the Western Front." Hindenburg is certain that the confidence and resolution to secure victory is present in the German army. He sees 1918 as the end of defence and the change to attack. He sees a breakthrough to "unlock the gate to open warfare." Hindenburg admits at this time "I still regard the English as the main pillar of the enemy resistance." He also understands the French political dependence on the goodwill of England. He also expected the Ukraine to provide a source of food. German forces form Bulgaria and Asiatic Turkey were to be transferred to the Western Front., though this was slower than he wished. We faced an "English army of many millions, fully equipped, well trained and hardened to war." Also America was perilously near to entering the war. He did not believe the U.S.A. would enter the war in time to change the outcome.

Hindenburg turns to Germany's "great offensive battle in France." He quotes the Kaiser's battle orders verbatim, including the plan to use Crown Prince Rupprecht's Army Group to cut off the English in the Cambrai salient. Initially, the March offensive achieved brilliant success from Hindenburg's point of view. He realised that the topography was more favourable to the objectives of achieving a breakthrough. However the supply problems were not helped by poor communication. The use of abandoned British supply dumps helped, though these sometimes had a negative effect on German morale as they compared the high quality of what they found, with their own supplies.

Hindenburg thought his attacking force suffered from tiredness. He also comments that his troops lacked some of the discipline of earlier campaigns. This first battle plan was not followed to its hoped for conclusion and was replaced by an attack in Flanders. The object was to deny the Channel ports to the British forces and it would also place long-range guns within striking range of the southern parts of England. The French force was effective in preventing German success in this second phase. Hindenburg and Ludendorff maintained their view that control of the Channel Ports was vital to their victory. They planned to prevent French activity to hinder them. Hindenburg considered that Rheims was the key to this because of its importance as a communication centre. This stratagem would keep the French tied down and reopen the possibility of a Flanders offensive. A French offensive into the German salient helped prevent this scheme working.

On 8 August the British attack at Amiens exposed the weakness of the German defensive position. The truth that the Germans could not win was thus made apparent. Hindenburg however advised the Kaiser that the time was not yet optimal to make peace. He based this on the amount of hostile territory in German control and the hope of improving the military situation.

(Ludendorff now believed that the war should be ended, though Hindenburg does not mention this in his autobiography.)

Foch rallied his forces; Bulgaria was beaten on Salonika and the Turks were decisively beaten by Allenby in Palestine.

In Germany public dissatisfaction was becoming more and more vocal. A new government under Prince Max of Baden was favourable to a negotiated peace.

Ludendorff's March 1918 offensive on the Western Front had failed and Germany had to save what she could, especially the fact that Germany itself had not suffered invasion.

Hindenburg remained in charge of the army until the Treaty of Versailles was signed, when he resigned.

Postscript

After Germany's defeat in 1918 Hindenburg retired. In 1925, largely because of his status as a war hero, he was elected president of Germany. There was still a belief amongst many people that the army had not lost the war but had been let down by backstabbing politicians. Therefore, Hindenburg's credentials were good. He won the 1925 presidential election (though not overwhelmingly). In 1930, as economic depression took hold and another government fell, he appointed a cabinet accountable only to him and in July authorised Chancellor Heinrich Brüning to dissolve the Reichstag. New elections saw the National Socialists emerge as the second largest party and with parliamentary cooperation withering, Brüning governed almost exclusively by decree. His deflationist policies aggravated the economic difficulties and unrest mounted, fuelled by the Nazis. Hindenburg was re-elected president, mainly with the support of those who saw him as a protection against Nazi lawlessness and brutality. Yet Hindenburg's own circle thought of the Nazis as a useful - albeit unpleasant - group, who were worth accommodating.

Two successive governments failed to win Nazi support as Adolf Hitler insisted on becoming chancellor in any government in which his party participated. Despite considerable pressure, Hindenburg refused to appoint him, but in November 1932 an agreement was reached between Hitler and Franz von Papen - a former chancellor - to form a Government. Though he did not like Hitler because he did not come from the right social class and had only been a corporal in the war, he was persuaded to appoint him chancellor in January 1933. Hindenburg died in 1934, and was buried at Tannenberg.

Reviewed by Keith Lainton

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) WFA Members' Publications Sun, 13 Apr 2014 16:14:26 +0000
Ulster, Ireland and the Somme War Memorials and Battlefield Pilgrimages http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3695-ulster-ireland-and-the-somme-war-memorials-and-battlefield-pilgrimages.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3695-ulster-ireland-and-the-somme-war-memorials-and-battlefield-pilgrimages.html ulster ireland sommeWritten by Catherine Switzer

The History Press of Ireland Ltd, Dublin 2013, £16.99, 254pp, ills, ISBN 978-1-84588-772-8

Well, did I like this book? I can only answer with an emphatic "yes". However, I have to declare an interest, in that my grandfather was killed on the Somme serving with the 36th Ulster Division, so my level of interest in this book was bound to be high. This is not to diminish the quality of the book in any way. Indeed, it deals with wider issues such as the post-war situation in the Somme area and the lawlessness there at that time, and the objections to various British memorials from French and Belgian officialdom. The book should not be pigeonholed a being purely of Irish interest but deals with wider implications. Indeed, it also approaches the Irish issues themselves from a somewhat different angle.

The writing style is clear and very readable. This is central to the accessibility of a book, as it does not matter how wonderful the information is if it is buried in impenetrable prose.

Key issues that are dealt with include the political background to commemoration and the consequent difficulties to be overcome, in both the Ulster Tower at Thiepval and the Irish Divisions' crosses at Guillemont, Wytschaete and in Serbia (The last of these three crosses has been in three countries since it was erected without moving an inch, such has been the turmoil in the Balkans). The French and Belgians honoured the opening ceremonies for the Irish memorials by having General Weygand at the Ulster Tower, General Joffre at Guillemont and Belgian General Borremans at Wytschaete. Ironically, the Ulster political heavyweights of James Craig and Edward Carson both managed to miss the opening of the Ulster Tower through indisposition.

The Irish war of independence and the consequent Irish civil war, of which many in GB today know nothing, delayed the memorialisation of the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions until the mid-1920s. The commemoration was largely driven in the Irish Free State, as it then was, by Maj Gen Hickie who had commanded the 16th Division and at this juncture lived in County Tipperary. There was less obstruction from the Irish government than might have been expected but all were concerned that it should be an Irish commemoration. Indeed, these difficulties of commemoration have worsened until the turning point in recent years when a combination of the peace process, the Queen's visit to the Irish Republic, the excellent work of the WFA branches in Cork and Dublin, and the efforts of the ex-service and regimental associations has brought about a greatly renewed interest in, and recognition of, the role of the southern Irish in WWI.

In the northern part of Ireland in the immediate post war period, the task faced by the committee in Belfast was far from straightforward but was less complicated than in the south (which subsequently of course became the Irish Free State in 1920). The very considerable sum of £4000 was raised by public subscription in the north as early as 1919. The Ulster tower itself was erected in 1921 and was intended to commemorate all shades of those who served with the 36th Division, though regrettably that has not always been the case since then. Considerable efforts to return to that ethos have been made in more recent times.

The speed of the creation of the Ulster Tower compares with that of the Thiepval monument to the missing on the Somme which was built as late as 1932 and was paid for by the UK government. Incidentally, the Thiepval monument is on its third choice site, due to objections to the original locations from the French authorities at the time, which probably contributed to the delay in its construction.

More generally, and away from the Irish context, Catherine Switzer deals with the process of battlefield clearances and of casualty concentration after the war. As many as 231,000 British graves were concentrated by 1921. She deals with the destruction and concentration of German cemeteries. That, coupled with the French practice of concentrating their casualties into a few very large cemeteries, and of using ossuaries for unknowns, has to a large extent removed the French and Germans from the Somme landscape and has left it today dotted with some 245 British cemeteries.

The author deals with pilgrimages in the inter-war years, and the difficulties faced by the families in visiting the battlefields and finding the cemeteries, especially given the concentration efforts.

The wider aspect of the differing reasons for, and perceptions of, battlefield visits is covered. The veterans and immediate families of the fallen themselves aged and have now passed away. With that loss of personal contact, the visits to, and interest in, the memorials and cemeteries had faded. In more recent times, many people have "discovered" family members who served and, whether or not they survived, have taken an increasing interest in where their relatives were in WWI and what they did and indeed what they suffered. Thus, the nature of the visits has changed from direct contact and memories of the places and events, to attempting to find out what happened, and why it did happen. One might call it the "Who do you think you are?" factor. For example, the Newfoundland Park recorded visitor numbers of 50,000 in 2001 which increased to 123,000 in 2011. One can only hope that this trend continues and that more people find out about the true story of those who served in WWI.

In conclusion, Catherine is to be congratulated in producing an excellent book.

Reviewed by Trevor Adams

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) WFA Members' Publications Sun, 13 Apr 2014 16:06:26 +0000
Minds at War Poetry and Experience of the First World War http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3697-minds-at-war-poetry-and-experience-of-the-first-world-war.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3697-minds-at-war-poetry-and-experience-of-the-first-world-war.html minds at warEdited by David Roberts.

Saxon Books 1996, 8th printing 2012, 411 + vi pp, illustrations, ISBN 978 0 9528969 0 6

This anthology contains 250 poems by 80 poets, including 26 women and 40 'other significant' authors, including 'lost' verse that enjoyed enormous popularity during the war. It also includes extracts from contemporary records, press reports and commentaries, poets' letters, diaries and personal accounts, historic photographs and cartoons. The role of the poets in propaganda is also discussed.

After an introduction there are 11 chapters, with varying numbers of sections. They are:

  1. The spirit of war is native to the British
  2. What England wants is a war
  3. Early enthusiasm for the war
  4. Early doubts about the war
  5. Trench warfare
  6. Waiting and suffering
  7. Home front
  8. The wounded, the dying and the dead
  9. Refusing to fight – psychological stress – breakdowns and protests
  10. The end
  11. An alien peace-time world.

After the main part of the book, is a section entitled 'Brief lives', which gives pen portraits of the poets featured, as well as other significant figures involved in the war. There is a glossary, bibliography and index and a list of the poems included, listed in author order.

This is a very comprehensive look at the poetry of the war, which goes into considerable depth. The fact that it has been reprinted eight times is testimony to its popularity. It must be the largest number of poets to feature in an anthology, many of whom will be unfamiliar to many readers, and the additional material adds value to the commentary. The chronological approach is an interesting one and enables us to see how views about the war changed during its progress.

The introduction has sections entitled 'essential voices of the first world war'; context; the place of prose; and 'the special significance of the poetry'. It gives a lucid and interesting introduction to the subject, as all best introductions do. The following chapters contain more or less commentary on the subject matter under discussion, as well as a number of relevant poems.

It would be advisable for anyone interested in a particular individual to check his or her details from another source. The poet I know best is Julian Grenfell (sadly my edition of his letters does not feature in the bibliography). The pen portrait states that he died on 30 April 1915, which is incorrect. On that date he appeared to be in rude health and wrote a long letter to his mother. He died of his wounds on 26 May 1915.

With this caveat, the book can be recommended as a full and interesting addition to the full oeuvre on the subject.

Reviewed by Kate Thompson

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) WFA Members' Publications Sun, 13 Apr 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Serre Stollen 10c DVD http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3694-serre-stollen-10c-dvd.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3694-serre-stollen-10c-dvd.html Serre stollenFougasse Films, The Durand Group 2013

Colour and stereo audio DVD, Duration 54 minutes.

Serre, Stollen 10c is a multi-media DVD report produced by the Durand Group on their work to identify, excavate and explore a German tunnel that first appeared as a crater in a farmer's goat pen in 2008. It is, however, much more than that.

The producers have used film, war diaries and maps from both British and German sources to relate the experiences of the 31st Div, a New Army division of Pals battalions, in their attack on the village of Serre during the Battle of the Somme.

While relating the events that took place underground, it also describes the actions around Serre right up to the Armistice. Both British and German tunnellers had constructed tunnels (Stollen) either as fighting tunnels, listening posts or to counter-mine the enemy tunnels around the German held village of Serre. In addition, the British drove several tunnels forward that were planned to break through to the surface and become trench mortar emplacements to support the infantry as the attack took place.

I would recommend this DVD to anyone who is interested in the war underground, the Pals battalions of the 31st Division or the Somme offensive

Reviewed by David Bailey

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) WFA Members' Publications Sat, 05 Apr 2014 00:00:00 +0000
A Motorcycle Courier in the Great War: The Illustrated Edition http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3674-a-motorcycle-courier-in-the-great-war-the-illustrated-edition.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3674-a-motorcycle-courier-in-the-great-war-the-illustrated-edition.html motorcycle courierAuthor: W H L Watson

Editor: Bob Carruthers

Pen and Sword, 2013, pp 203, ISBN: 978 1 78159 239 7

"You see, sir" [one burgher explained] that our cathedral is shattered and the Cloth Hall a ruin. May those devils, the dirty Gewrmans, roast in Hell! But after the war we shall be the richest city in Belgium. All England will flock to Ypres. Is it not a monstrous cemetery? Are there not woods and villages and farms at which the brave English who have fought here like lions to earn themselves eternal fame, and for the city an added glory? The good God gives his compensations after great wars. There will be many to buy our lace and fill our restaurants" (p. 189-90).

When was this statement – so accurately prophetic for anyone who has been to Ieper – made? 1918? 1919? Or 1920 when tours to the battlefields really took off? No – but sometime during the Second Battle in April or May 1915! We know this because this book is a reminiscence of the first nine months of the war, the author was in Ypres on 22 April 1915 because he bought an "excellent dry Martini" there on that evening, and the book was itself first published in 1915 [the exact date in 1915 is not given but there are several mentions of 'nine months' (pp. 142 and 191) and the events' narrative ceases in April]. But the reference by a motorcycle courier to having a dry Martini is the clue that this is no ordinary memoir from the Great War.

Watson was just finishing in Oxford, and already a keen motor cyclist, when war broke out. So, anxious for adventure and purchasing his own machine, he signed up with his motorbike! After a perfunctory bit of training he was off to France with the rank of corporal and carried messages right through the retreat, then in the area of the Aisne, and then back in Flanders directly to the rear of the First Battle of Ypres, and then in the back areas during the early months of 1915. His motorbike gave him a mobility – which he used with the panach and abandon of an undergraduate on a jolly – that allowed him to see virtually the whole of the British zone at the time. But by May that year he and his companions were finding that rather than being dispatch-riders in the great tradition of galloping from the general's side to the far corners of the field, they were now 'postmen' (p. 201) and so the abondoned their bikes and became, very junior, 'gentlemen' (p. 201) – and the editor informs us that this 'gentleman' eventually rose to rank of captain and later served with the tanks.

What makes this memoir different from either that of a soldier like Frank Richards or the far more numerous memoirs of junior officers? The first difference is that while this man was a corporal he broke that officers / OR boundary in ways that are quite amazing. Sent with a dispatch he quite unconsicously asks staff officers their opinion about how matters are proceeding! And with the exception when two 'very junion gentlemen' had them thrown out of a restaurant, he seems to have been accepted and spoken with as a member of the gentleman class despite the rank on his sleeve. Watson may have been with Tommy, but he imagined himself apart – and by the end of the book is explicit about his own special status as "Varsity men ... [with] ... priviledges that professional soldiers could win only after many years' hard work" (p. 197). The result is a curious view that has elements of Richards and Dunn (The War the Infantry Knew) as they describe the same events and conditions from separate viewpoints.

The other difference is that, allowing that this was written up from letters home while the war was still 'young' and that this was Watson's first book with some of the symptoms of such a work in its first chapters – is the level of self-awareness he displays about what he is writing and how the event of war is changing him. Repeatedly he warns his reader that what he is saying may not be what happened, or what the general saw, or what the historian might see, but what he saw from his perspective at the time. This awareness is expressed concisely on p. 123: "I am trying to tell you what we thought was happening." Likewise, we see him growing from seeing war as a great adventure (at the start of the book) to this mature (after 9 months) comment: "But it is easy to sentimentalise, to labour the stark fact that war is a grotesque, irrational absurdity...." (p. 193). That said, with its keen class-conscious eye and its confidence that soon the "frontier" ('Front' was not yet common parlance) would move eastwards, this is the antithesis to those memoirs Corrigan berates as repetitions of 'mud, blood and poppycock'; Watson's work is a little gem that deserves attention from anyone interested in the emotions of August 1914 and perceptions during the early months of the war.

While I am very glad that Watson's book is back in print, a few critical comments on the edition are called for. First, a set of editorial notes keying the imprecise references given by Watson to what was taking place would have added immensely to the value of this edition. Watson's account is a stream of events in sequence, but these need to be tied down to when units were moving and the significence that we attach to that sequence of events. So unless you already know what is happening in an area, this could appear as just more messages moving around and a different set of billets and cafés. A real opportunity has been missed here.

Second, we are told that this is 'an illustrated edition' but this means that about a dozen generally appropriate photographs from the time have been included. They are really little more than stock pics from the file marked "WWI - early." Then on p. 63 we have a posed photograph of a young courier standing with his motorbike – but no caption! Is this Watson? Who is it? Likewse, a reproduction of the original title page would have been valuable to see if it adds to the details we have about the author at the time of its publication; while the cover pic is wholly inappropriate – it is from some time after early 1916 as they are wearing steel helmets.

Third, Watson's work ends with his receiving a commission – and the editor tells us that he later recounted his time with the tanks (p. 9) but we are given no biography of the author or even told if he survived the war! Lastly, the book claims to have maps – and it has does have 6 maps: pp. 14, 31, 76, 89, 130, and 150. However, these are grey, muddy copies taken from histories issued at the time – they resemble the general location maps that were used in The Great War that appeared in instalments during the war. While one of these would have been evocative as an artefact, they are not campaign maps and so help us little more to locate the narrative than than using a modern motoring atlas. Watson gives very precise acounts of some of his journeys and a series of proper sketch maps which showed the front at that moment would have added immensely to the value of this book.

In a word, Watson's book is a must for the Garrison Library, but I hope that future reprints in this series give more thought to what a good modern edition should be.

Reviewerd by Thomas O'Loughlin
Professor of Historical Theology
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham
NG7 2RD

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3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Fri, 28 Mar 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Where the Poppies Now Grow http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/185-childrens-books/3608-where-the-poppies-now-grow.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/185-childrens-books/3608-where-the-poppies-now-grow.html poppies cover

Strauss House Publications (2014)

ISBN: 978-0-9571245-8-5

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

 

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey) Children's Books Thu, 20 Feb 2014 20:14:10 +0000
Battle Lines: Ypres - Nieupoort to Ploegsteert http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/102-tour-guides/3507-battle-lines-ypres-nieupoort-to-ploegsteert.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/102-tour-guides/3507-battle-lines-ypres-nieupoort-to-ploegsteert.html battle lines ypresAuthors: Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland

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.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ian T Hodkinson. IGBG Member 437

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland) Tour Guides Sat, 08 Feb 2014 00:00:00 +0000
1914-1918 An Eyewitness to War http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3509-1914-1918-an-eyewitness-to-war.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3509-1914-1918-an-eyewitness-to-war.html eyewitness to warEdited by Bob Carruthers

ISBN 9781781591512

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

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Bob Carruthers (Ed)) General Interest Sat, 08 Feb 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Accrington's Pals: The Full Story http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3510-accringtons-pals-the-full-story.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3510-accringtons-pals-the-full-story.html accringtons palsWritten by Andrew Jackson

ISBN 978-84884-469-8

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

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Andrew Jackson) General Interest Sat, 08 Feb 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The Zeebrugge Raid: The Finest Feat of Arms http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/89-battles/3515-the-zeebrugge-raid-the-finest-feat-of-arms.html http://westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/89-battles/3515-the-zeebrugge-raid-the-finest-feat-of-arms.html zeebrugge raidWritten by Paul Kendall  

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

 

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3135lish@gmail.com (Paul Kendall ) Battles Sat, 08 Feb 2014 00:00:00 +0000