Pen and Sword Military 2013
ISBN 978-1-84884-777-4, hardback 296pp, illustrations & maps. £25:00
This book deals with the experiences of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of the British Army on the Western Front from the outbreak of war until the end of 1914. Perceptions of such events are informed by the material presented to the viewer or reader. For many, based on the photographs and monochrome films of the time, the Great War is a silent black and white world. This perception is reinforced by the repetitive use of the same stock images by modern film and television programmes. Thus, images of steel helmeted soldiers in muddy trenches are used to portray the war in western Europe from its outbreak in August 1914 to the end of fighting in November 1918. To counteract this, the lodestone for the historian is to find and use sources that are as contemporaneous as possible, not created with posterity in mind or with other ulterior motives such as propaganda. This book uses contemporary letters, diaries, official 'after action' reports, articles using the experiences of the participants published soon after the events, regimental and official histories. Importantly, it uses sources from the German participants to give depth to the narrative. The wide range of sources indicates how the book benefits from the author having been Assistant Keeper of the Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds. Many sources are not well known to the wider public.
The book concentrates on the narrative. It does not attempt to analyse in depth the events and actions of the opposing forces. However, as well as the more well-known battles, such as Mons, Le Cateau and Ypres, it illuminates little known episodes, such as the actions of the Royal Naval Division at Antwerp, including Commander Samson's armoured car detachment, and arrival of the Indian Corps and the BEF'.
The book is well illustrated by photographs of places mentioned in the text and of the participants. There are also very useful sketch maps showing the location of the participants at the time of the events they described. The book is worth purchasing because it illuminates the opening phases of what, with hindsight, we now know would run for a further four long terrible years.
Reviewed by Dr A M Thomas
From Ladysmith to Langemarck
Many have agreed with Sir James Edmonds' view that the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 was the "best trained, best organised, and best equipped British Army which ever went forth to war." To better understand how such an army survived its encounters with the most fearsome military force of its day, we have, from Dr. Spencer Jones, "From Boer War to World War".
This book is concerned primarily in two areas: doctrine and tactics. Naturally the Second Anglo-Boer conflict of 1898-1902 provided us the roots of Edwardian military reforms. It would be Britain's only chance to come into contact with a European enemy whose armaments and field craft were state of the art during the late 19th century. Spencer Jones takes the reader through this period in several succinct chapters which deal with infantry, artillery, and cavalry - weaving the practical lessons from Cape Colony, to Spion Kop throughout.
Consequently the book is readable to the expert and amateur alike. His introduction clearly states the purpose for this work. Jones then extrapolates British tactical doctrine and details Field Service Regulations 1909 and the development of the British Chief of Staff. Tactical evolution and the problems of inter-service preparations for combined arms are deeply explored in both the conventional and unconventional stages of the fighting. One area that readers might find illuminating is Jones' research on the arme blanche. Great War cavalry has oft been treated as an anachronism. In many quarters it is given short shrift as altogether irrelevant since Hiram Maxim test fired the first shots of his new patent weapon system in London, 1884. However Jones describes for us lessons gathered on the veldt that ultimately allowed for a great deal of dismounted work. Many of the continental armies marched on their horses, thus wearing them out before engaging in combat. The BEF took great care of their animals after costly campaigns against the Boers who, by 1901, were harrying the British at great distances and moving swiftly. The pay off came in 1914 when British squadrons blocked German cavalry screens and recces to the point of practically blinding von Kluck's intelligence department.
Jones' style is concise and well organised. He also does not shy from the many deficiencies in the army's development of artillery and operational command doctrine. Archival primary research and a historiography demonstrate Jones' command of the early war BEF. We are treated to a number of illustrations ranging from Krupp heavy guns used by the Kruger government and drawings of British 'snap shooting' tactics. The conclusion of the book ultimately lends weight to Edmond's words.
Reviewed by Alexander A Falbo
Privately published, fp 1999
Whilst we have a plethora of published memoirs from serving soldiers there are far fewer from women who served during the war. Those we have are often from nurses and, as yet, there are few from others who made an equally valuable contribution to bodies such as the YMCA, one of the most active voluntary groups of the war.
The YMCA rapidly mobilised its resources calling on its previous work with the army in South Africa. The principle architect of the YMCA's wartime mission was its dynamic national secretary, Sir Arthur Yapp, who re-branded the organisation the 'Red Triangle'. They opened more than 250 recreational centres in Great Britain within ten days of the outbreak of war and the first YMCA secretaries to serve with the BEF arrived in France long before they had received official permission from the War Office.
In Britain, the public face of the YMCA was the dozens of huts and canteens providing free refreshments established in towns and cities, notably those adjacent to main railway stations and which remained open day and night.
In France and Flanders YMCA huts provided much needed recreation huts, as well as providing concert parties and organised sports. These offered the British soldier comfortingly familiar recreational and cultural outlets, which were not enjoyed to the same extent by men of other armies. They were staffed by a volunteer army of 40,000 Women's Auxiliaries.
In 1917, the YMCA was opening centres close to dressing stations and casualty clearing stations on the Western Front and they had ten recreation huts in the Ypres Salient alone, turning over 260,000 francs (about £13,000) a month. The YMCA's overall contribution was impressive; the net cost of its work during the First World War was eventually estimated at a staggering £8 million the equivalent today of £400 million. This policy of locating facilities as close as possible to the front line exposed many of the voluntary workers to danger of death and injury from shellfire and capture by the enemy. In the wake of the German offensive in spring 1918 they lost over 50 huts.
One of these workers was Jessie Wilson, who worked first at the canteen at Euston station but, for most of the war, at a hut near Le Havre. Her diary, which has been edited and privately published by her niece, is a lively read. She was certainly a dedicated and opinionated lady who didn't suffer fools and found herself occasionally opposed to authority. She is far more concerned with the varied and colourful characters with whom she came into contact, including Sir Arthur Yapp, than she is in expressing opinions about the progress of the war. However there are some revealing insights into how the women were recruited (a great deal of use of private patronage) and their relations with French authorities and population (often strained).
Clearly Jessie thoroughly enjoyed her war despite her encounters with its horrors and she was rewarded after it by both the YMCA Gold Order of the Red Triangle and an MBE.
John Bourne has recognised that troop morale was boosted by 'the huge network of welfare facilities, including YMCA canteens, concert parties and organized sport' and from his extensive examination of contemporary written sources, Peter Liddle links voluntary support for the troops, amongst women in particular, to 'the strong sense of national and local identity' shared by civilians and soldiers.' It was thus that volunteers such as Jessie Wilson made their own valuable contributions to Britain's eventual victory.
Reviewed by Dr Peter Grant
Charles Messenger is a renown military historical author with such titles to his name as "The day we Won the War – Turning Point at Amiens 1918", "The Last Prussian – A Biography of Field Marshall Gerd von Runstedt" and "Northern Ireland: The Troubles". So I was not surprised to find he has covered the contentious issue of General Frank Crozier in his most recent book – "Broken Sword".
A somewhat complicated and controversial figure, if not a kind of "Walter Mitty" character, adept at "weaving his own story" to suit his needs, General Crozier was no doubt a highly talented and successful soldier – how else do you rise to the rank of General. After his attempts to join the British Army failed on medical grounds he became a mercenary soldier in Africa and Canada, later joining the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Crozier had a lengthy career as a professional soldier, seeing service during the Second Boer War and in Africa before 1914; building a battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in the early part of the Great War and then being appointed to command a brigade of the 40th Division. A hard task master and disciplinarian, Crozier cuts a figure at ease with himself and his surroundings, not easily swayed or afraid to take hard and, in some cases, long lasting and controversial decisions.
His memoirs – entitled "A Brass Hat in No Man's Land" has been described as some as a "bad memoir" and a "little self serving". That said, Messenger has set forth to provide a balanced and readable account of the life of this controversial and somewhat flawed fellow. Fine, although brief accounts of his early years set the tone for what is nothing short of a roller coaster ride across continents and countries.
Messenger covers General Crozier's times in South Africa and the Boer War, Ulster, the Western Front, Lithuania, back to Ulster and the periods of "reflection" when defending his reputation to his "end of the road" at the door of Pacifism, all with the commensurate skill one would expect from an accomplished author. His time in Ireland is well covered and gives an insight in to the "war" at that time against Irish Nationalists.
Whilst the book may not appeal to all, I found it readable and, I have to agree with other reviews, very educational. Messenger leaves the reader with the choice of what to make of General Frank Crozier.
Reviewed by Ian T Hodkinson
97 minutes with additional features of:
I found this DVD to be compelling viewing and the Durand Group and its members are to be congratulated for the battlefield archaeology and exploration they are undertaking. This is not a DVD telling the story of a campaign, battle, or prominent soldier. It does not detail the unit history of a tunnelling company, although the 172nd Tunnelling Company RE does feature, as does one of their officers, Captain Richard Brown Brisco. There is no sensationalism to be found here. What is to be found is a video diary of events surrounding the excavation and exploration of two tunnel complexes, one British and one German, in a very specific corner of the Vimy Ridge battlefield. It is a detailed step by step record of the group's activities over a ten year period. The story is illustrated by the use of First World War aerial photographs, maps, computer graphics of the tunnels and through the ongoing comments of the Durand Group members as they go about their work inside and outside of the tunnels. While some may find the pace a little slow, I found the straightforward description of the work undertaken to be of great interest and believe serious students of the First World War will as well.
The video diary begins in 1998 when a team from the Durand Group enters the British tunnel P73G3 in the La Folie (P) mining sector of Vimy Ridge to neutralize an unexploded 600lb Camouflet charge. They complete this work the following year. This charge is just meters from a German tunnel known as ST19. ST 19 is part of a self-contained tunnel complex driven forward from the German second line. There are three entrances to this tunnel complex ST19, 20 and 21. Over the years Durand Group members repeatedly return to continue their work at Vimy, but the greatest part of the DVD is devoted to their attempts to enter the German tunnel complex followed by their exploration of it.
Beginning in May 2003 a concerted effort commenced to enter ST 20 and 21. One team sought to locate the entrance to ST21 through Washing Machine Crater. This is the second largest crater on Vimy Ridge, and was blown by the Germans in June 1916 to support an attack against the French. It received its name from Durand Group founder Lt Col Phillip Robinson due to a smashed up household appliance that had at some point been dumped there. The fact that the appliance was subsequently found to be a stove has quite rightly not resulted in a name change. A second group sought access to ST20 by cutting down through its roof. Both attempts proved unsuccessful, although during the excavations the remains of two soldiers were discovered. The endeavours of the Durand Group are not solely wrapped up in the exploration of First World War tunnels. They are based on the proper application of archaeological techniques and, most importantly, respect for human dignity. Not only were the soldiers' remains carefully and respectfully excavated, but all the artifacts found with them were catalogued and cleaned prior to being turned over to the Canadian authorities. The rosary found with the remains of one of the men was particularly compelling. "Painstaking and rewarding" was a comment from one of the group members.
During the 2003 excavations no attempt was made to find the entrance to ST19 as its precise location was unclear. However the following year Canadian authorities cleared the secondary vegetation from an area of 100 square meters in which the entrance to ST19 was situated. French démineurs swept and cleared the area to a depth of 18 inches. The scale of detritus, including 384 items of unexploded ordnance, was truly amazing. Durand Group experts were available for what would be found at deeper levels.
There is a strong component of detective work in the labours of the Durand Group members. After consulting aerial photographs, Great War maps and completing a survey of the recently cleared area, group members found that the German and British records could not be completely reconciled. This was dealt with by placing the British map over the German and then shifting the British map slightly sideways. Things then made a great deal more sense.
In October 2004 the entrance to ST19 was discovered and access was achieved, though initially to ST19 only; no way into ST20 or 21 was found at this time. In addition to telephone wire, a blackened patch on the wall showing where a candle had been situated, ventilation tubing, and writing on the walls giving the tunnel dimensions and dates, tucked into easily accessible locations the team also found Masher grenades. ST19 was very close to the British tunnel P73G3 and the Germans were clearly concerned about a British break in. The close proximity was demonstrated when Durand Group members at the tunnel faces of British P73G3 and German ST19 made loud noise to make themselves heard to those at the other tunnel face. Though muffled they could clearly hear each other. There is a sense of irony here when one contemplates the conditions the Great War miners operated under. They would of course have been working as quietly as possible and all the while fearful of being buried alive by an enemy Camouflet or unwittingly breaking into the other side's chamber.
Although plans showed ST19, 20 and 21 as a self-contained connected unit, as mentioned above, at first a connection could not be found. However, in January 2005 the entrance from ST19 to the other tunnels was located, albeit with a significant blockage. In May 2006 the group excavated the blockage and entered ST20 and 21. As the narrator says, "the result is well worth the wait".
Durand members returned to the German tunnels on three more occasions (October 2006, October 2007 and May 2008). They explored, surveyed, recorded the artifacts found and plotted their positions. They also found evidence of a Camouflet in ST19, but could not find the charge itself. It may have been removed by the Germans themselves at some point. The Durand Group's work in the tunnels ceased in 2008 when Canadian authorities removed tunnel access to all groups pending a policy review.
Returning to the original Camouflet in P73G3, the Durand Group believes it was the work of Lieutenant, later Acting Captain, R.B. Brisco. The British had laid a larger mine in P73G4 and Brisco would have been cognizant of the close proximity ST19 and the consequent danger of a German break in compromising it. P73G4 was blown late in 1916 creating Edmonton Crater.
Brisco is an interesting character. A solicitor by training from Cumbria, he travelled the world gaining mining experience along the way. He served in the Boer War eventually being taken prisoner. After enlisting in the 2nd King Edward's Horse in 1914, he transferred to the 172nd Tunnelling Company. Two months later he won the Military Cross for his role in an underground skirmish after his men broke into a German gallery. He lost his life on April 9, 1917, the first day of the Vimy Ridge offensive, after he led a team from the 172nd Tunnelling Company into the German tunnels to complete a survey and recover any Germans sheltering there. As he was presumably reporting his findings to officers of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, he was killed by a shell blast. The activities of Brisco and the 172nd Tunnelling Company are illustrative of the fact that Vimy Ridge was not solely a Canadian offensive and it has been good to see some acceptance of this recently in Canada with the publication of books such as Vimy Ridge; A Canadian Reassessment, edited by Hayes, Iarocci and Bechthold.
This DVD is very good viewing for the serious student. The video of inside the tunnels is of great interest and the information brought to our attention through the comments of the group members as they go about their work is illuminating. For example, I never knew that German tunnels were typically deeper than those of the British. While at first blush this might seem to be a positive, we find that it often took them below the water table and so a great deal of effort was spent on drainage issues.
Sales of Durand Group DVDs helps raise funds to continue this important work and I for one will be seeking out other DVDs they have produced. I include the Durand Group's website address for those looking to find out more about them. This is the first I had heard of them and I'm impressed.
Review by Paul McNicholls
Publisher and Date of Publication: Pen & Sword Military 2013 (first published in Great Britain in 1996 by Spellmount Limited)
Length etc: 184 pp. with 58 black and white illustrations (24 plates) and three maps. Contains notes at the end of most chapters, a select bibliography and index
ISBN: 978 1 78303 287 7
The story of an under-age 'Old Contemptible'.
This book is a republished version of the 1996 edition. The 2013 version contains some new photographs but no new text (apart from a one-page 'New Introduction'). In its first edition, the book was amongst the earliest of Richard van Emden's accounts of the experiences of individual 'Tommies' during the First World War. Teenage Tommy, the subject of this book, was a cavalryman, Benjamin Clouting, who enlisted with the 4th Dragoon Guards in August 1913 at the age of 15, having lied about his age. As with some of van Emden's other books, his account is assembled from tape recorded interviews (in this case carried out with Ben Clouting in 1989-1990), which van Emden then sought to verify against the known passage of events. Not having read the 1996 edition, Teenage Tommy was new to me and I found it an enjoyable read that contains sufficient depth for those with specific historical interests in the War and sufficient human interest for the more casual reader. (This reviewer sits somewhere in the middle of this spectrum).
Ben Clouting's experiences of the First World War covered the period from 14 August 1914 through to the Regiment's participation in the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland in 1919. On arrival in France, Clouting saw action at the first engagement between British troops and the Germans at Casteau on 22 August 1914, followed by his participation in the Charge of the 4th Dragoon Guards and the 9th Lancers at Audregnies on 24 August 1914. He was involved in the Retreat from Mons and the conduct of intelligence operations behind enemy lines. Once trench positions were established, Clouting's war service involved dismounted operations holding the line in the Ypres area. He received a 'Blighty' wound at the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge on 24 May 1915 and was returned to the UK where he was treated at Graylingwell Hospital, Cambridge, before being returned to his regimental base at Tidworth.
Early in 1916 he returned to France having became horse orderly (groom) to a senior officer, Adrian Carton de Wiart V.C., who took Clouting with him as de Wiart quickly rose in seniority. With de Wiart, Clouting was successively transferred to the 7th Loyal North Lancs, 8th Gloucesters, 8th North Staffordshires and the 12th Infantry Brigade. Clouting recounted to van Emden his experiences with the 8th Gloucesters at the Somme, and his time at 12th Infantry Brigade HQ during 1917 where, by the nature of his job, he was an observer of the War rather than an active participant, though he was involved in transporting supplies up to the front line during Passchendaele.
At the end of 1917 he was returned to his original Regiment, when, by his own admission, "life was quite easy". The concluding section of the book covers the advance to the Rhineland after hostilities had ceased, including an interesting diversion on the extent to which the British military authorities sought to minimise the contraction of venereal diseases by members of the occupying forces.
Clouting had, from an early age, always wanted to become a soldier, and his account of events appears not to have been coloured by any later change of attitude to the War. For those steeped in First World War history, there may be little new information in this book (and virtually none if you have already read the earlier 1996 edition).
However, I enjoyed it.
Reviewed by Chris Payne
£12.99 pbk. 238pp ISBN: 978 1 78346 178 3
In 1914, a British infantry battalion or a cavalry regiment had a machine gun section with 2 Maxim machine guns served by an officer and a dozen other ranks. A machine gun school was opened in France. War experience led to the formation of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) in October 1915. The battalion and regimental machine gun sections were transferred to the MGC and grouped into Brigade Machine Gun Companies using the Vickers machine gun. The Heavy Branch of the MGC was formed in 1916 and was the first to use tanks in combat; the branch was subsequently turned into the Tank Corps in July 1917 and was later called the Royal Tank Regiment. It hardly figures in this book.
The MGC was disbanded in 1922 leaving relatively few records behind. Those of Corps HQ were destroyed by fire at Shorncliffe near Folkestone in 1920, and personnel records were further reduced by fire in the Blitz of 1940. This makes any book of experiences particularly valuable. It required intelligent, energetic and brave men with good tactical awareness to get the most out of the Vickers machine gun – men capable of giving a good account of themselves in a book such as this. The reminiscences cover all the continents where the Corps fought and take the story down to the end of 1918.
Some 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC, nicknamed the Suicide Club, with 62,049 becoming casualties, including 12,498 killed.
C E Crutchley served in 1/4th Northants Territorial Regiment and 135 Machine Gun Company. He was a founder member of the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association and compiled this book in tribute to his comrades. The book itself is not in any sense a history of the Corps and one reviewer has described it as somewhat disjointed. This is inevitable in a series of discrete memoirs of specific events, units and places but does not distract from the value of the original and authentic tales from those who served and saw action. The arrangement of the eight containing sections is sorted firstly chronologically and then by the theatre of war, ending with the largest section on the Mesopotamian campaign from the first battle of Kut. Next in size is that on the Western Front from Warlencourt at the end of the Somme battles to Cambrai in November 1917. A slightly shorter collection covers events on the Western Front from 1915 to the middle part of the Somme battles. Other times and places receive shorter treatment.
Crutchley opens the book with a brief summation of many individual acts of bravery, which illustrate his theme of comradeship. The accounts that follow have an inevitably limited horizon, very much the worm's eye view, with comments on allegedly futile attacks and the invisibility, nay stupidity, of generals that may in part reflect the date of writing and compilation, well after 1930s' revulsion at the war's consequences and after the anti-war perspective of the 1960s. One exception is a short story of a visit to a unit by Haig who took care to show his interest in the men involved.
The tales told vary considerably in tone and viewpoint from those of boy-soldiers to those of officers. Some read like a unit history, dry and factual, some are far more personal in tone. One recalls the first view of a tank, another dwells on the use for all conceivable ailments of the infamous No 9 pill. Details of the unpleasant happenings of war are frequent. The tactical awareness mentioned above is rarely in evidence and the accounts are usually static, concerned with events at one place and time with little sense of movement and indeed of purpose. The writers give little sense of control over who they are and what they did - the worm's eye view again. On the other hand they show a strong sense of both humour and resilience in the face of very great discomfort and sometimes equally great danger.
You will not leave this book with greater knowledge of the major events of the war, or even of the employment and methods of the Machine Gun Corps, and indeed to enjoy it you need to bring a fair bit of knowledge of the minutiae of the Great War British Army and its ways, but you will put the book down with enhanced appreciation of the men of that time and of what they so impressively endured.
Reviewed by Peter Cox
Author - Andy Prada/The Durand Group
Distributed by Fougassefilms Ltd. [see Durand Group]
78 mins 2011
This is a long [78 mins] and quite detailed DVD that will appeal most to those who already have an informed interest in the complex underground strategies of the First World War. But, having said that, it does also contain some extremely interesting and unique material. Some parts, those that show the structure of the subway and the problems encountered in excavating it, will appeal to everyone. So it can and does work on two levels and as a whole is both fascinating and very informative.
The Durand Group, whose DVD this is, were formed around 1997 and take their name from the Durand mine and its 6000 lbs of explosive ammonal that was finally made safe in that year. They now take a leading role in developing excavation techniques on and below World War 1 battlefields and have a particular interest in their long term conservation needs, as well as the integrity of the whole of the archaeological fabric. They are, as this DVD shows, experts in their field and, because of this expertise, can provide us with a much better understanding of the horrors of underground warfare and the engineering expertise that made it possible.
The sheer scale of the artillery bombardments and their killing capacity quickly drove the armies of both side underground and the Goodman Subway was one of 14 dug in late 1916 and early 1917 to support the allied attack on Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917. It allowed troops to move forward to their attack positions under cover and out of sight of the enemy, safe from both shells and small arms fire. All the subways, and Goodman was no exception, were underground worlds within the battlefield and as havens of relative safety they were required to be able to support large numbers of soldiers. For example, they had to have ample head cover, accommodation for Brigade and Battalion headquarters, dug outs, assembly chambers, signal offices, bomb and ammunition store, dressing stations with operating tables, water tanks, kitchens and latrines.
Numerous exits gave access to support and assembly trenches, well out in no - man's land and signal cables, that were far safer and less prone to damage than those on the surface, gave uninterrupted communication that was essential for the attack on Vimy Ridge. The excavation of this particular subway began in May 2000 and has continued in subsequent years.
The DVD itself, charts the progress of the exploration of the tunnel and the whole of the underground system and describes in great detail the problems encountered by the Durand group in getting into certain parts, as well as moving through tunnels that, over the years, had been partially blocked by substantial rock and roof falls. These sections, including how they actually got back into the tunnel after encountering one of the collapses were, I felt for the purist rather than of general interest - but in many ways it was fascinating to begin to understand the expertise and commitment needed to surmount all the problems they found.
The subway itself was extremely important and thousands of men both lived in it for substantial periods of time and passed through it. The graffiti they found and carefully recorded is moving and poignant and gives us many interesting details of the mainly Canadian Battalions that were kept safe underground. It had been devised to facilitate the safe passage of infantry from reserve trenches through badly shelled areas to and from forward positions and, at approx. 1.7km was the longest subway under the Vimy battlefield. It was completed by 172 Company of the Royal Engineers in November 1916 and links directly into the deeper fighting tunnels of the La Folie mining system.
If this DVD does nothing else it gives us every opportunity to marvel at the sheer scale of the underground war on this part of the Western Front and how important it was for the Arras offensive in the Spring of 1917.
Of course, exploring the tunnels and carefully explaining how this happened requires both skill and expertise as well as an awareness that it is not an easy process and that there are bound to be many disappointments. A good example of the frequent obstacles that slow down and halt progress, was when the Durand Group broke into the forward part of the subway lying within the Canadian memorial site on Vimy Ridge in 2001. Here they found a substantial blockage that couldn't be cleared and it wasn't until 2006 that they managed to excavate another shaft beyond the blockage and continue their underground journey towards the village of Neuville St Vaast behind the lines. How they did this and their discovery of the underground chambers, water storage areas and still intact signal cabling is fascinating - but, as I have suggested - more interesting to a real student of the underground war than those who have a more general interest in the Western Front.
What is really useful about the whole of this DVD is that there are maps, photographs, plans and reports in a folder that can be accessed through a computer. These files fill out the detail - in fact they provide both detail and extra useful and interesting information. For example, the maps allow us to plot where the tunnel was on the surface, making it much easier to walk the countryside close to Vimy Ridge and be more aware of what actually exists underneath the ground and to understand how the tunnels fit into the landscape and strategies of the 1917 Arras battlefield.
My interest and my knowledge of the underground war had, until I watched Goodman Subway, been limited to finding more about the area on the Somme close to the Lochnagar crater and the Glory Hole. Understanding more about this was really because of my interest in the York and Lancaster battalions and other soldiers who were recruited from the mining communities of South Yorkshire.
William Hackett, the only tunneller to be awarded a VC - unfortunately posthumously - made me more aware of the skill and bravery of the soldiers who created the tunnels. His daughter, on giving his VC to the Royal Engineer's museum in the 1960's is quoted as saying - 'It is a little thing to exchange for his life' .
I am now interested in finding out more - not only about the tunnellers and engineers who created this underground world - but about the Durand Group themselves, who through their skill and hard work are opening up a whole new area of study. This DVD would be a fascinating addition to anyone's World War One library.
Reviewed by Roger Smith
ISBN 978 0 9927324 2 4
Although only 40 pages in all, this book contains a fascinating collection of facts, photos and facimilies concerning the famous Alnwick Camp and the Alnwick area. While this may seem to be quite a specialist and local offering, the author points out (quite correctly) 'although the stories may be about the Alnwick district, they will probably have a resonance for people in many small towns through the length and breadth of Britain'.
As well as photographs and a short history of the Camp and some of the NF Battalions stationed there, it provides a unique insight into the 'home defence' preparations with such fascinating documents as a 'Despatch Riders Test', a list of vehicles available for requisition, and the evacuation routes planned for the civilian population in the event of an invasion. Such home defence matters are more usually associated with WW2, but this book shows that much of the planning (and practice!) had been carried out many years before, and had begun to be implemented within days of the declaration of war in 1914.
While this will undoubtedly appeal greatly to local readers who will recognise the family names and locations, it is a wonderful glimpse of the workings of the Local Emergency Committees that were set up all over Britain. For this reason I have no hesitation in recommending it as a valuable addition to any bookshelf-
and at £4.50 plus p&p a very economical one.
For further details visit Wilds of Wanney or get in touch with the author.
Pen & Sword Military £12.99, pp. 193 plus maps, photographs, references and bibliography.
ISBN: 978 1 78346 171 4
This book tells of the contribution of the British Army to the war on the Austro-Italian front in 1917 and 1918. Five British and six French divisions were despatched to Italy in December 1917 following the rout of Italian forces at the Battle of Caporetto. In the opinion of the authors, the combined Italian, French and British forces then made "significant contributions to the winning of the First World War, and the French and British expeditions to Italy were amongst the most successful Allied expeditions of the War." Regrettably, while Caporetto and its aftermath are reasonably well known to enthusiasts of the war, the British campaign in Italy has gone largely unnoticed over the years and has suffered from inaccurate and incomplete narratives. The clear aim of the authors is to rectify this state of affairs.
The opening chapter sets the scene for the deployment of British and French forces and is a minor history lesson in itself. It covers not only the historical sources of conflict between Italy and Austria stemming from the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the 'Risorgimento' of the 19th century, but also the machinations of 1914 and 1915 which result in Italy entering the war on the side of the Triple Entente, following the signing of the Treaty of London in April 1915. It concludes with the progress of the numerous attritional battles on the Austro-Italian front to the autumn of 1917 and the disastrous battle of Caporetto in October of that year when Austro-German forces routed the Italian 2nd Army.
Chapter 2 relates the British and French response to the catastrophe at Caporetto. For the British bogged down at Passchendaele the sudden and acute need to reinforce the Italian Army could not have come at a more difficult time. The French responded first but by mid-December 1917 there were six French and five British divisions on the ground. The account of the professional tensions between senior Italian, French and British generals and politicians, the logistical difficulties of relocating so many divisions quickly along only two railway links between France and Italy, supplying them using the somewhat fragile lorries of the day in mountainous terrain, and the debate over their subsequent deployment is absorbing reading.
Meanwhile, the Italians had not been idle since Caporetto. Chapter 3 describes the 'Arrestamento', the rallying of the Italian Armies to staunch the enemy advance at Asiago, on the Monte Grappa massif and at the Piave River. The Austro-Germans, suffering from extended supply lines, significant casualties, exhausted troops and deteriorating weather, abandoned their offensive in early December and moves were made to return German forces to the Western Front. British and French forces saw little active combat during the 'Arrestamento' but "the very presence of these troops was a direct boost to morale both civil and military and a direct assurance of military support".
Chapter 4 describes in quite some detail the experiences of the British Divisions on the Piave and in the Asiago sector during the first six months of 1918, including a short account of the increasingly important role of the Allied air forces. The not insignificant effects of the geographical and climatic influences are made clear, as is the crucial contribution of British training of Italian troops in the lessons learned on the Western Front. Allied planning and co-operation are also considered but plans were disturbed by the need to return two British and three French divisions to the Western Front to counter the Spring Offensive.
Chapters 5 and 6 recount the Austrian offensive of June 1918 and the experiences of the British and French troops on the key days of 15-16 June. The higher-level considerations of earlier chapters give way to unit and individual accounts of fierce fighting, often hand-to-hand. It was "a battalion commanders' and soldiers' battle" in which acts of bravery, including the winning of two VCs, were numerous. One section is devoted to the performance of Major-General Fanshawe and the British 48th Division on the Asiago plateau, which makes intriguing reading.
The relatively quiet summer of 1918 is the subject of Chapter 7 with the developments on the Western Front having significant impacts on plans and manpower in Italy. Roughly one in four battalions were returned to France with the British moving to a structure of three battalions per brigade.
Chapter 8 tells of the Vittorio Veneto offensive in the autumn of 1918 that led to the defeat of the Austrians and the end of the war in Italy on November 4. The hazardous crossing of the Piave, which involved an immense bridge building exercise and the vital capture of the low-lying Papodopoli Island by a combined British and Italian force in which small boats played a crucial part, makes gripping reading. By the end of October the Allied armies had crossed the Piave in strength and the Austrians were in retreat across the whole front. The story of the efforts made by the Austrians to secure an armistice in very confusing circumstances is an interesting aspect.
The final chapter looks at the legacy of the war for Italy. Arguably, the achievements of the Italians, despite the rout at Caporetto, were not insignificant but they were largely unaware of the scale of the war elsewhere which meant that the context of the 1915 Treaty of London was much changed and Italian post-war expectations were only partially fulfilled. The authors take the opportunity in this final chapter to correct some of the erroneous accounts of the British and French campaigns in Italy and challenge some of the accepted history and myth.
I found much to enjoy in this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it as it is, without doubt, very revealing of a front and a campaign that are often overlooked. However, the reader should expect a detailed, scholarly account only occasionally tempered by the personal aspects of the soldiers themselves through the use of unit war diaries and personal diaries and accounts. The depth of research, self-evident as it is throughout the text, is reinforced by the extensive references and a substantial bibliography.
Reviewed by David Parmee