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The Somme by Peter Hart
 The Somme by Peter Hart


Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson.

ISBN 10 0 297 84705 8 HB 589 pages £20.00

‘The Somme’ - To many people these few words have come to be bywords for murder, mayhem and pointless slaughter. They conjure up views of Chateau Generals and poor Tommy Atkins living in fetid trenches waiting to die in a hail of machine gun bullets.

At long last we have a book which challenges this often heard view of the battle of the Somme. For nearly 90 years many eminent military historians have helped to colour the views of our nation with the same old bigoted, jaundiced and ill informed view of this great but tragic battle.

In this work Peter Hart looks at the battle in a logical and orderly manner. The book starts by giving the reasons why Douglas Haig was forced into fighting on the chalk downlands of the Somme. Once the political reasons for the battle are covered he moves smoothly to the tumultuous first day. This starts at Gommecourt and steadily moves southwards along the battleline to Maricourt on the banks of the river Somme. All through the text one sees an educated analysis of the opening day’s events, which are greatly aided by new facsimiles of the Official Histories maps.

Upon the conclusion of the first day the reader is then taken through the further battles that comprise the Battle of the Somme. All the time there is logical analysis of the Generals actions. In many parts one is made aware of unforgivable errors made by Haig, Rawlinson and others which lead to the death of many thousands of men. But one is also made aware of incidents that will hopefully lay down the myth of Lions led by Donkeys! The analysis of the battles is clear and concise, sticking to known facts. All too often we are served up myth and legend, in what are frankly pseudo histories of this conflict.

Throughout the book Peter Hart makes extensive use of personal accounts from those who we there. He has not been tempted to colour the reader’s judgement of the overall battle by the misrepresentation of these most personal reminiscences. They add greatly to the understanding of how individual soldiers felt about their own localised situation within the tumult of the battle.

In conclusion I would recommend this book whole heartedly; this is a classic work that joins the ever increasing list of revisionist histories on the Great War. With the passing of time we are able to make reasoned judgements on the conflict. Peter Hart should be congratulated for producing this fine body of work. I would suggest that those who have accused him of being an apologist for Douglas Haig should question their own historical integrity and stop following the all too easy path of misinformed and some what bigoted comment on this tragic battle.

The one abiding conclusion to be drawn from this book is that War is awful, it is not and never has been glorious to those who are caught up in it. Peter Hart leaves one in no doubt of this fact.

Reviewed by Western Front Association member Martin Hornby.

 somme-farrar
 The Somme

 

Published by Pan

ISBN 0 330 37643 8 SB 269 pages £6.99

 

The book is divided into 5 distinct sections:

 

  1. The Men and the Hour
  2. Gestation
  3. First Strike
  4. The Long Agony
  5. Judgement.

 

The Men and the Hour: The main players of the battle, Falkenhayn, Joffre and Haig are introduced. Farrar-Hockley uses his critical military eye to assess each man in turn, and then he concludes the section by looking at Verdun.

 

Gestation: Here Farrar-Hockley covers the ground, the troops and the planning of the battle. Both sides are examined, and he draws on the feelings of the rank and file soldier.

 

First Strike: The plans and actions all along the front are inspected and questioned. Farrar-Hockley uses his expertise as a general to provide the reader with balanced judgements of the battle.

 

The Long Agony: After the first phase of the battle the reader is taken through the painful moves when ground is gained and lost. Towards the end of the battle the Tanks appear with limited success. They bring with them hopes that the carnage may stop.

 

Judgement: Here Farrar-Hockley examines what occurred and is able to provide the reader with his professional view on the Generals and the men.

 

Vast quantities of literature have been written about the Battle of the Somme.

This book is written in an easy reading enjoyable style, with good referencing to many other works. Anthony Farrar-Hockley has added the one aspect that is missing from numerous other excellent books on the battle, that being his knowledge as a General. The criticism he adds in places is that of the professional soldier and as such adds weight to the book. This book should grace the shelves of everyone who wishes to learn more about the Somme.

 

Reviewed by Martin Hornby

IR 169 Iron Cover
‘Imperial Germany’s “Iron Regiment” of the First World War : War Memories of Service with Infantry Regiment 169 1914-1918 by John K. Rieth (Member of The Western Front Association). 

The strengths of ‘Imperial Germany’s Iron Regiment of the First World War’ (IR 169) is that it is the complete lifecycle account of a German regiment for the duration of the First World War, and so a rare contribution to those wishing to see the war from the German perspective. IR 169 is so very much more than the kind of dry, blow by blow regimental or divisional history that we are all used to.

IR 160 Aviatik Albert Rieth MEDIUM

Fig.1 Albert Rieth with fellow men of ‘Iron Regiment 169’

Whilst the author covers every moment of the regiment’s history, from its formation in 1914 to it demise and demobbing in 1918/19 he also brings us the personal stories and voices of three others: his grandfather Albert Rieth who carries the story in the opening weeks of the war in 1914, before passing on the baton to his grandson John who in turn uses a new translation of the war memoir of Otto Lais, and from amongst the usually anonymous voices of the IR 169 ‘informal’ Regimental History machine gunner Kuebler and others to paint a vivid picture of events. An official history of IR 169 was never published so the few primary resources that could be found have been deciphered and translated from the challenging old German ‘Kurrentschrift’. At times both Otto Lais and Kuebler are well able to match the insight and narrative storytelling of Ernst Jünger ‘Storm of Steel’ or Erich Maria Remarque ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’

As John Rieth, a former US Army Lieutenant-Colonel states in the Prologue, his aim is to tell the tactical history of a German Regiment from the perspective of a German soldier throughout the duration of the First World War - this he achieves with aplomb. IR 169 happens to be the regiment in which his late grandfather Albert Reith served in, albeit briefly. For this reason IR 169 is both a labour of love and a thoroughly researched, detailed account. It is more than just a dry record of what took place though, far from it, drawing on his grandfather’s memoir, the rare translated words of German artist Otto Lais who served in IR 169 and the equally rare ‘informal’ Regimental history, which includes the voice of machine gunner Kuebler, you get something that is part like the typical BEF Divisional History, part ‘voice of the veteran’ in the style of Lyn Macdonald or Peter Hart, while also having the authoritative and guiding voice of the author himself. In fact, unlike Macdonald and Hart you get to know Albert Rieth, Otto Lais and Kuebler who are the primary voices. If you know Ernst Jünger’s ‘Storm of Steel’ then you get some of that in tone and detail from Otto Lais. The genuine delight with the book is that particular voices come through and you are left with a sense of what it might have been like to serve in IR 169 from August 1914 and survive, as Otto Lais did through four and a half years to the Armistice. At full strength IR 169 had 3,500 men. By November 1918 over 22,000 men had ‘cycled through’ the regiment, this number dead, wounded, missing or perhaps transferred. By November 1918 it is a spent force of less than a 1,000. 

The losses by the French in the first weeks and month of the war are brought home graphically. On 22nd August 1914 27,000 French soldiers were killed.

To appreciate the events covered from 1914 to 1919, here, for those wishing to further their knowledge of any of these battles from the perspective of a German soldier is the service experience John Rieth provides for IR 169:

1914

  • Battle of Mulhouse
  • Attack on the Riedicheim-Rixhelm Heights
  • Annihilation of a French battery outside Harzweiler.
  • Battle of the Frontiers
  • Meurthe Campaign and the four separate battles at Vacqueville, Baccarat, St.Barbe and Menil.
  • Controversy over treatment of ‘francs-tirreurs’
  • The ‘Race to the Sea’
  • The Battle of the Marne
  • Crown Prince Rupprecht’s machinations and the attempt to circle Verdun and the creation of the St.Mihiel Salient.
  • Bernecourt and Noviant.
  • The Battle of La Bassee

1915

  • The Somme
  • Bapaume
  • Gommencourt

1916

  • The Somme (IR 169 were at Serre facing the Acrington Pals)
  • 1 July 1916 onwards - IR 169 defend Serre opposite the Accrington Pals

1917

  • Return to quarters in Bouchain
  • Deployed to southern Alsace/Aisne
  • German/French border
  • Battle of Aisne

1918

  • The Spring Offensives
  • The British Army breakout of Amiens to Albert and Bapaume
  • Grevillers Forest vs. The French
  • Meuse-Argonne demise vs. the American Expeditionary Forces
  • (Touching on the AEF ‘Lost Battalion’ and ‘Captain York.’)
  • Armistice

1919

  • Demob and disolution of IR 169

IR 169 Albert Rieth StudioFig. 2 Albert Rieth. 1914. 

 (The author's grandfather who emigrated to the US in the late 1920s) 

The book is topped-and-tailed by a prologue that introduces the author’s grandfather and a postscript which describes how the author followed his grandfather’s bootsteps of August 1914.

A grandson's personal gallery of photographs at the end of the book reinforces this family connection.

 

 

 

 

Many maps support the story, and if thought a little tricky to decipher, there is a link to an online resource.

IR 169 British Somme NORMAL

Fig. 3. Showing the three German trench lines ‘in depth’ faced by the various British Divisions that attacked on 1 July 1916. IR 169 held Gommecourt from May 1915 - May 1916 (far north of this map) and Serre (2 ½ miles south) from May - November 1916. Map coutesy of Andew Jackson, author of ‘The Accrington Pals, The Full Story’ who describes the attack by the British on Serre on the ‘The Accrington Pals’ website.

The author accepts to trying to ‘mesh together stories of the French, British and American Expeditionary Forces’ when they are facing IR 169. At times this leaves IR 169 as ‘the ones being faced across the trenches’, on the other hand it is intriguing to cross noman’s land to get some insight, for example, on the Accrington Pals at Serre on the Somme in July 1916 - the Indian troops from Lahore who IR 169 faced, as well as the French Chasseurs Alpines and American Marines. Therefore, there are multiple valuable insights into some of the key events up and down the Western Front of 1914-18 from the German perspective.

On first reading some readers may be tripped up by some minor editorial slips and the author admits to only turning to three sources to set the context - John Keegan, Max Hastings and Barbara Tuchman. Everything is referenced carefully - though some readers will think that the author’s reading should have been broader and included authorities on the First World War from the German perspective.

Thanks to John Reith’s book I picked up Ernst Jünger’s ‘Storm of Steel’ again, translated by Michael Hofman, and stumbled upon a brief description by the translator of Ernst Jünger’s style.

‘I would like first to put the idea of a star shape in the reader’s mind, The characteristic focus and form, it seems to me, of Storm of Steel is just such an in-and-out, the points, the capes, the nooks and spines. It is not actually the most tightly drawn book one can imagine: that would have made it a small circle.’ p xvi (Michael Hofman, 2003)

With IR 169 by John Rieth, I would visualise something of a star, not entirely even, with some spikes large than others but it is nonetheless, as promised, a complete telling of one German regiment’s experience throughout the First World War from formation to demise, told largely by three or four German soldiers on the ground who were there and put down their words at the time or afterwards.

There are some weaknesses that readers should brush off, as the strength of ‘Imperial Germany’s Iron Regiment of the First World War’ is that its goals are met: this is the First World War from the perspective of a single German regiment told by the soldiers and an informed grandson of one of the combatants.

 

Review by Jonathan Vernon

 

 Front Cover of the book 'The Boys of Blackhorse Road' by Malcolm Doolin
 The Boys of Blackhorse Road

 

The Boys of Blackhorse Road 

Written by Malcolm Doolin

 

More than simply a collection of personal, short life and service histories of the boys who as men served and died during the First World War, BBR is a social history of the era, which ably straddles this extraordinarily transitional era, say 1880s to 1920s.

The story of the school is assiduously told; throughout it remains the principal 'character' from whom and to whom everything else refers. It is this that also successfully weds the current structure to the events of 100 years ago.

We forget or may not be aware how limiting the life opportunities were for many people just 100 years ago, our grandparents and great grandparents received enough schooling to suit them to 'clerking, shop work or apprentices'. It is refreshing to engage with a study that produced 'the rankers' - that is neither a grammar or public school: these stories are more grounded, there are no poets amongst their names.

'The Boys of Blackhorse Road' quickly fixes us to the memorial plate and the 55 names on it. Living in the Britain few of us will not have seen such memorial plaques somewhere and wondered at their provence and the stories behind them: in stations, post offices, school lobbies and halls and in parks as well as in churches. They were men, for the most part, often young, some 'underage' but looking the part or able to get in with the collisions of the recruiting sergeant: they were boys and men who had, like us and our children, attended the local school for a number of years, roots in the community that were dug up and too often buried in makeshift graves on the battlefields of the Western Front, Gallipoli, Middle East and Africa. 0f the 55 people on the BBR memorial, 20 have no known grave and 4 died in hospital on their return to Britain.

As well as 'The Boys of Blackhorse Road' , we come to know the author Malcolm Doolin; he reflects with candor and authority having spent his career in education. He is the voice that connects our 21st century sensibilities with the consequences for "The Boys", as he calls them. BBR is a joy to read, easy on the head and eye, while providing both touching and intricately well researched detail. In this respect too BBR is a model for any historian, group or sleuth wishing to set about the task of exploring the names on a plaque and telling their story.

'The Boys of Blackhorse Road' is a story for Walthamstow and London, and a story of the First World War.

'The Boys of Blackhorse Road' is also a succinct, balanced, clear introduction to the First World War: the geopolitics, machinations of mid 1914, and society as it was a 100 years ago - not so different today, whether the layout of streets, the fabric of the buildings and its football teams.

 

Reviewed for the Western Front Association by Jonathan Vernon

 

Readers who have found this entry of interest may also like to read about Malcolm Doolin's visit to the Somme in 2016.  

A number of 'Boys' have been featured in The Western Front Assocation 'Remember on this day' pages.

 

Reginald Sellers : 27 August 1918

 

1 War Black and White Print

Fig. 1: War print from John Moody woodcut

We have a limited number of ‘The Great War: As Recorded through the fine and popular arts’. 

2 The Great War Book Cover

Fig. 2: The front cover of the book

This 300-page catalogue was published to support an exhibition held at the Morley Gallery in the autumn of 2014. It is much more than a catalogue though, more a rich compendium of art works relating to the First World War: prints, posters, postcards, oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, sketches from trenches, battleships and the air, photographs, stereoscopic photographs, sculptures and ceramics … even a design for a stained glass window.

This is an intelligent collection, lovingly curated and presented with insightful comment on the role art played and has played in remembering ‘The Great War.’

‘War does not purify, it intensifies - that’s all. The material man becomes more material, the spiritual man more spiritual, and the true artist more passionately an artist.’

This quote comes from Charles Lewis Hind (1924) was chosen by Sacha Llewellyn, one of the exhibition’s curators and authors of this collection. It is apt as it sums up the beautiful and thoughtful choices made here: each artwork is remarkable in its execution; the variety shows the emotional response to the war, the reality and propaganda, the humour and human side, the inner mind and spirituality, the every day and the remarkable. The authors are a little apologetic that the emphasis here is on British Art, with some French and German examples: a product of the provenance of these items from the British Isles.

There are over 150 pieces featured by some 100 artists, here are some of them:

3 John Moody Woodcut

Fig. 3. John Moody (1906-1993) War, 1928, the original woodblock, 3 x 4 in. (7.6. x 10.2 cm)

4 England triptych Percy Jowett LD

Fig. 4. Percy Jowett (1892-1955) England (triptych), c.1918, tempera on board, 25.2 x 29.9 in (64 x 76 cm) overall

5 Tsar in Calender

Fig. 5 Réne George Hermann-Paul (1864-1940) Calendrier de La Guerre (2ème année). Coloured woodcuts. Published by Librairie Lutetia.

6 Liss Fine Art Tank

Fig. 6 A female Mark I tank crossing No Man’s Land. Lithographic reproduction from the series of war drawings published by Country Life, 1917. Muirhead Bone (1876-1953)


7 Liss Fine Art Watercolour

Fig. 7 Portrait of a Private, 1916, signed and dated, Watercolour over charcoal on paper, 10 x 14 ¾ in. (25.5 x 37.5 cm) Percy Horton (1897-1970)

8 Luftschiff Zeppelin LZ24 RAF Museum

Fig. 8 Luftschiff Zeppelin L724 (RAF Museum)


9 Bull Dog

Fig. 9 Commemorative ware: British bulldog wearing a Steel Helmet and equipment, 1917, China, height : 6 1/2 in. (15.5 cm), length 8 in. (20 cm).

10 Bairnsfather Ware Farm pot

Fig. 10 Bairnsfather Ware (Fragments from France), teapot, 8 x 6 1.2 in. (20 x 16.5 cm), Transfer reads; “Dear … ‘At present we are staying on a farm.’”

11 Heath Robinson

Fig. 11 William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) A nice conclusion. Pen and Ink, 17 x 10 in. (43 x 25.5 cm)

12 Attacking Zeppelin

Fig. 12 Reginald Alexander Warneford Attacking Zeppelin LZ-39, signed Gouache on card 16 x 12 in. (30 x 28 cm) Raymond Sheppard (1913-1958) Between 1934 and 1958 Raymond Sheppard illustrated well over 100 books.

13 Liss Fine Art HRH E

Fig. 13 Stereoscopic print: HRH the Prince of Wales discussing cinematography with Mr. Girdwood 3 ½ x 7 in. (9 x 18 cm), published by Realistic Travels.

14 Telegraph wire going up for No Mans Land LD

Fig. 14 Official photograph taken on the Western Front. D 2114. 'The Battle of the Bridges. Telegraph wire going up for No Man's Land. Signallers on the way to establish communications. Black and White photograph. 

16 French Poster
Fig. 15 French Poster: Emprunt Nationale 1918

15 Murihead Bone

Fig. 16 The artist Muirhead Bone at work

Copies are available for £10 +P&P of £5 (UK Only).

Copies will also be available for purchase at the joint WFA/Gallipoli Association Conference on 26/27th September, stock allowing. 

Please provide a postal address for delivery with your cheque for £15 made out to the Western Front Association, to the:

WFA office
BM Box 1914
LONDON
WC1N 3 XX

Or order through the WFA shop.

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