Cambridgeshire Kitcheners

Cambridgeshire Kitcheners: A History of the 11th (Service) Battalion (Cambs) Suffolk Regiment.

Joanna Costin

Pen and Sword (2016)


ISBN 9-781-47386-900-4


163 b/w photos

Following the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 and the subsequent call for volunteers, the men of Cambridgeshire were not slow in stepping forward in the service of their country. However, in a departure from standard practice, these enthusiastic new volunteers did not join their county regiment. For organisational reasons they were enlisted into a separately designated Cambridgeshire battalion of the Suffolk Regiment – the 11th (Service) Battalion. The author contends that this ambiguity in local affiliation has meant that the skill, bravery and dedication of the Cambs Suffolks (as they were known) has not been given sufficient recognition in modern times. In telling their story the author is seeking to raise the profile of the Cambs Suffolks by describing the momentous efforts made by these men from the flatlands of Cambridgeshire.

The book takes the form of a chronological narrative over seventeen chapters starting from the early days in Cambridge through to the closing stages of the war at which point the battalion was moved from the 34th Division to the 61st (South Midlands). In particular, the reader learns about the battalion’s heroic involvement on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the difficult assaults undertaken during the Battle of Arras in 1917 and the critical defensive actions on the River Lys in the spring of 1918. In addition to writing about the military actions themselves the author also examines the impact of the battalion’s involvement in the war on the home population back in Cambridgeshire. Indeed, there is a whole chapter devoted to the role of women in the pre-Derby scheme era of recruitment. The author injects personality into the description of the men who served by quoting extensively from personal diaries and letters.

Unit histories such as this one can sometimes be difficult to read for anyone who does not have a particular connection with the events being recounted. However, in this instance, the author has enriched the narrative with some excellent observations about the development of battlefield tactics. For example; the use of counter battery artillery fire, the introduction of tanks and the evolution of airpower. Furthermore the leadership capabilities of key players such as Haig and Rawlinson are discussed in a more balanced way than is often the case (although this reviewer would take issue with the observations made about General Ingouville-Williams’ popularity).

The author has an academic background and this is used to excellent effect in the range of sources used. The relevant battalion, brigade and divisional war diaries are referenced throughout and the material covering tactical developments is sourced, to a large extent, from the Imperial War Museum Archive. Local newspaper reports are quoted extensively and where there is a lack of certainty the author provides an appropriate caveat. The references relating to each chapter are laid out in a logical way and there is a useful appendix listing all of the men who are mentioned in the book.

In the reviewers opinion the book would have benefited from a few maps. For readers who are unfamiliar with the geography, some of the movements are a little hard to follow. Also the description of the battalion’s involvement in the 1918 Kaiserschlacht may have resonated to an even greater extent had some of the more candid observations articulated by Cambs Suffolks veteran F. Haydn Hornsey in his book Hell on Earth been used (though his diary is quoted). However, these are minor points which should certainly not detract from an overall impression of thoroughness and quality.

By blending the unit history with a vivid description of the impact on the home front and an excellent articulation of the strategic and tactical context the author has produced a book that will inform and entertain at all levels. This book will go a long way towards restating what the people of Cambridgeshire knew in the immediate post war period – that the men of the Cambs Suffolks deserve a huge amount of recognition and appreciation for all that they achieved during the 1914-18 war.

Reviewed by Phil Curme.


 Lancaster in the Great War

Lancaster in the Great War 

John Fidler

Pen & Sword Military, 2016,

ISBN: 978-147384- 611-1


This book relates to the geographical area known as Lancaster in 1914 and includes a brief history of the area. This book is not about battles, but about the people of Lancaster, their home town and villages, and the effect of the Great War upon the community, both during the war and subsequently. It is well sectioned into ten chapters that include the lead up to, and the aftermath of the war. Whilst some relate to decorations for gallantry and to war casualties the larger part is devoted to what can best be described as the ‘home front’. This includes the experience of tribunals dealing with exemptions from military service, conscientious objectors, food rationing, price rises etc. There were significant effects on local industry due to the absence of large numbers of men serving under the colours in (a wide variety of regiments). The replace ment of men by women went some way to alleviate the effect, but nonetheless manufacturing output was seriously affected.

Whilst Lancaster was safe from naval and aerial bombardment, unlike east-coast towns like Hartlepool, who suffered from both, there were civilan deaths due to works accidents and an explosion at the local munitions factory.

It was interesting to note that the town had its first official Remembrance Day on 4 August 1918. After the war the town did its best to provide housing and meet other needs of returning disabled veterans.

The lack of detailed source referencing may be disappointing to military historians as could the lack of individual name referencing in the index. But this is a book to read, and it does read well. It will provide a good starting point for anyone wishing to find out more about Lancaster and its men, women and children in the Great War. I t does contain many references to individuals, both military and civilian, and some information about the town’s war memorials - you just need to read the various chapters to find them.


Stan Grosvenor, MA FCA


 China in the Great War

Betrayed Ally: China in the Great War

By Frances Wood & Christopher Arnander

Pen and Sword (2016)

£19.99 ISBN 978-1-47387-501-2

182pp 108 b/w photos 10 b/w maps & tables


This book seeks to fill a notable gap in the historiography of the 1914-18 world war. Whilst many readers will know that Chinese labourers were active on the Western Front throughout the conflict and indeed for some time afterwards, many will be unaware of the full breadth of China’s involvement. In attempting to fill this gap the scope of this book is hugely ambitious taking in, as it does, the history of foreign involvement in Chinese affairs through the preceding one hundred years, the military actions against German interests in the Far East during the1914-18 period, the impact on the home front within China, the Chinese contribution to the Allied war effort in Western Europe and the post war geo-political legacy.

In this meticulously researched book the authors make two main arguments. Firstly, that the Chinese contribution to the Allied war effort has been hitherto understated and, secondly, that China was severely disadvantaged – ‘betrayed’ - in the Versailles post war settlement because of duplicity on the part of the Allied powers. In the reviewers’ opinion, they succeed in respect of the former but are less convincing in respect of the latter.

The direct contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) to the Allied war effort is covered in just twenty-five totally absorbing pages. The role of the CLC went way beyond the provision of logistical support in the communication lines on the Western Front. Chinese labourers played a critical role in back-filling French industrial jobs, helping to dig trenches and dug-outs within the range of enemy artillery and, crucially, in manning the workshops of the Tank Corps. The authors offer a compelling argument that the CLC was an essential pre-requisite of scaled tank deployment in 1918. Furthermore after the conflict finished the CLC played an important role in interring the dead and disposing of battlefield munitions. In considering whether the CLC made a difference it is difficult to finish this chapter without agreeing with the authors that the Chinese contribution was material – perhaps even critical.

The bulk of the book however is concerned with other aspects of the Chinese Great War experience. The first three chapters deal with what the authors characterize as unwarranted interference in Chinese affairs. The authors are heavily invested in the prevailing Chinese narrative of national humiliation – a viewpoint that positions European activity in pre-war China as predominantly exploitative and in variance to Chinese national interest. As the chronology moves into the twentieth century however, the authors’ academic credentials manifest themselves more overtly in a thoroughly convincing overview of Japan’s ambition to subjugate vast areas of Chinese territory. Three more chapters are devoted to the wartime situation in China. The machinations of European diplomats and business leaders in Shanghai and Tianjin make for fascinating reading. Similarly the actions of the German Navy including the thrilling story of the Emden’s cruise which ended in the Cocos Islands are compelling topics. Perhaps the biggest revelation for this reviewer was that British troops served under Japanese command in the successful assault on the German ‘concession’ territory of Tsingtao in November 1914. It was the Japanese retention of Tsingtao after the war that the authors’ cite as the most impactful example of Chinese betrayal and it is this subject which occupies the final 56 pages of this fascinating book.

In the early years of the war the British Government gave repeated indications that they would support the repatriation of Tsingtao to the Chinese notwithstanding the fact that it was the Japanese who had driven the Germans out by means of military force. President Wilson of the USA reinforced this impression in 1918 when he set out what have since become known as the Fourteen Points. Central to this idealistic view of the post war settlement was the idea that nations should have autonomy and that colonial claims must be settled. Wood and Arnander make the argument that the allied powers reneged on this undertaking and in doing so fatally wounded Chinese political stability and national cohesion. The result was, according to the authors, a catastrophic outcome for China in the 1930s and 40s.

The counter-argument which is evident in the facts presented in this book if not in the main argument, is that it is almost inconceivable that the European powers would allow the repatriation of previously ‘occupied’ territory given a strategic reliance on the European concessions for the furtherance of trade in a post war world. Moreover it was only in August 1917, after the USA had joined the Allied cause, that China declared war on Germany. It is perhaps unrealistic to think that such opportunism after considerable prevarication would drive a similar level of influence as Japan who committed early, taking on board a high degree of risk.

The text is supplemented by a couple of informative appendices. The first consists of a useful chronology of recent Chinese history ranging from the start of the Manchu dynasty in 1644 through to the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The second offers a brief biography of all of the key personalities. The narrative is helpfully referenced throughout and the authors have used a wide range of primary and secondary sources – drawing from Chinese as well as European archives, journals and books. Frances Wood studied in Beijing, has written extensively about China and was curator of the Chinese collections at the British Library. Christopher Arnander has a background in public finance and has blended this with an interest in military history. With these impressive credentials it is not surprising that these two experienced writers have produced such an entertaining, thoroughly researched and provocative introductory study of China in the Great War.

 Review by Phil Curme


Devil Dogs Chronicle: Voices of the 4th Marine Brigade in World War I

Clark, George B., ed.

Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press

Works on the American participation in World War I are understandably harder to come by than those of their European counterparts. Books focusing on the experiences of one American unit are harder still. George B. Clark, in Devil Dogs Chronicle, has edited the memoirs, letters, and diaries of members of the 4th Marine Brigade into a focused history taking readers from recruitment and induction, through training, into combat in France, occupation duty in Germany, and finally demobilization.

Clark’s Devil Dogs Chronicle is a thematically and chronologically organized work drawing almost exclusively on primary source material written during or shortly after World War I. He draws on a significant number of unpublished or limited edition works to give voice to the Marines. Furthermore, Clark’s selection of primary source material written during or shortly after the war vice memoirs written decades later or secondary sources reduces the influence of hindsight on his book. The result is the Marines’ World War I experience being recounted almost as it happened.

The legend of the modern United States Marine Corps was, in many ways, born in the wheat fields surrounding Belleau Wood in northern France where the 4th Marine Brigade, part of U.S. Army’s Second Division, fought the entrenched German Army. Clark’s chapter on combat at Belleau Wood, where the Marines assisted in halting the German Spring Offensive of 1918, is his strongest. The Battle of Belleau Wood remains a cornerstone in Marine Corps lore and tradition. After reading the accounts of its participants, it is apparent why. The Marines describe hidden German machine gun nests and snipers in the dense woods. Commanders and enlisted men alike discuss capturing one German position only to be attacked from an unseen position on their flank. In one day, more Marines fell at Belleau Wood than had been killed in combat in the history of the Marine Corps to date. As such, the perspective Clark provides helps flesh out the Belleau Wood narrative for its place in Marine Corps lore and in its role in helping turn the tide in 1918.

Chapters on combat at St.-Mihiel, Soissons, Blanc Mont, and the Meuse-Argonne take Marines from the critical summer of 1918 through to the Armistice. These later battles proved Belleau Wood was far from an isolated example of Marine bravery and skill. In these battles, too, the Marines recall the savagery and chaos of combat in poignant terms. Short chapters on occupation duty in Germany and the return home complete the book.

Throughout, Clark allows his sources to express the chaos and savagery they experienced, as well as the lighter moments, in their own words. By weaving various authors throughout the text, he creates a holistic picture of the Marine experience in France from induction through demobilization. In Devil Dog Chronicles, Clark has given a consolidated voice to the men that gave rise the modern day Marine Corps. His book provides a view of Americans in combat in World War I that supplements official and higher-level histories with the contemporary impressions and reflections of its participants.


Reviewer biography:

Timothy Heck is currently a graduate student at Kings' College, London, in the Department of War Studies. An artillery officer by training, he is a graduate of several military command and staff schools. He lives and works in Southeast Asia.



Norwich in the Great War

Author: Stephen Browning

Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, 2015


“The Living Honour the Dead, Only a Breath Divides Them” is written on the monument which stands immediately behind the War Memorial in Norwich which was commissioned by Norwich City Council in 2010. In Norwich Cathedral you can admire a beautiful stained-glass window to commemorate the sacrifices made by Norwich soldiers. So Norwich has many cherished memorials to ‘ordinary’ soldiers in the numerous churches throughout the city. All these monuments honour the many men from Norwich who served, and died, in many regiments all around the World during many conflicts, including World War I. But the price was enormous; the loss of life at Ypres and the Somme was unprecedented and heartbreaking; the city lost 3,500 men in Flanders and Picardy and other theatres of war.

On the eve of the Great War, Norwich was a city on the industrial and commercial rise while it also was a main centre for the banking and insurance industries like the famous Norwich Union Mutual Insurance Company, now renamed Aviva. That the city was important was recognized when on 25 October 1909 King Edward VII became the first monarch to visit Norwich since Charles II, 238 years previously. But it was also a city not without its problems with extreme poverty in some areas like the notorious Norwich Yards. Both factors had an impact on the war and the subsequent changes to the city. Norwich industry made a vital contribution to the war efforts in ways both big and small, from making pairs of boots and the Sopwith Camel aircraft to literally smaller things that had a psychological impact, such as Caley’s Marching Chocolate for the troops, and the patriotic books and gifts made by Jarrolds.

It was on the Norfolk coast that in 1914 defensive measures were first introduced because hostile landings were feared. Nevertheless Norwich was fortunate to be situated inland as the coastal communities battled against Zeppelins and German naval attacks. Despite that Norwich still prepared itself for war by for instance creating a Volunteer Training Corps for older men (those over 38 years of age) and by enlisting for the Pals battalion, which later became the 8th Norfolks.

On 19 January 1915 for the first time Norwich prepared for “air-raid action” (in total during the Great War Norwich had to prepare itself sixty times for air-raid action) for two Zeppelins were sighted over Bacton, heading towards Norwich. Bombs were dropped but luckily without fatalities. A fatality Norwich suffered during that year was the death of Edith Clavell, a nurse who was working in Belgium; there she helped many a wounded soldier escape to the UK. She was arrested and executed by a German firing squad on 12 October. After the war she was reburied at the east side of Norwich Cathedral and a monument was created in her honour.

Norwich in the Great War by Stephen Browning is filled with all sorts of detailed information and facts that make interesting stuff to read. Recipes featuring Norfolk food recommended at the time on the one hand and on the other hand there is the story of the Mann brothers. Reading that story brought back memories of that famous movie, “Saving Private Ryan”. From the four Mann brothers William, Oscar and Percy died in 1916/17. To save the family further heartbreak the authorities sent the remaining brother Alfred, home to Norfolk where he saw out the war.

The book looks at Norwich on the eve of conflict and charts everyday life in the city year on year, extensively using original material from the period. It not only focuses on how it felt to live in the city and on the changes to people’s lives but also on the joy and sadness, on the courage and humour and on the pride and determination shown by its inhabitants. Both dramatic events and the details of daily life are illustrated by many unique photographs taken at the time. Most importantly, this account details the incredible deeds of the heroes who travelled from Norwich to the fields of conflict.

The book concludes with a view of the city as the surviving troops finally came home while a closing appendix gives the route for a fascinating “Great War Walk” around the city centre, taking in many of the places discussed in this book.

Stephen Browning has written a series of books with Norfolk themes in which can be noticed that before writing them he researches his subject in depth. This can also be seen in Norwich in the Great War; a most interesting book for those who take pride in their city but also for those who have more scholastic interests.

Dr. Giovanni Timmermans

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