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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://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews.html Sat, 20 Sep 2014 09:57:19 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb A question of duty - The Curragh Incident 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/4032-a-question-of-duty-the-curragh-incident-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/4032-a-question-of-duty-the-curragh-incident-1914.html OBrien bookPaul O'Brien

New Island, Dublin, 2014, £9.99, photos, 164pp.

ISBN: 978-1-84840-314-7

This is an interesting book which I would buy with my own money and it would not break the bank. It deals with events of March 1914 in the midst of the Home Rule crisis in Ireland and can easily be read in an afternoon. The subject matter is British army officers stationed at the Curragh camp who refused to obey potential orders to march against Unionists who were primarily, but not exclusively, in Ulster. It was to all intents and purposes an army mutiny, though it is now often described rather effetely as an "incident". Surely the British army refusing to obey orders a mere five months before Mons is a bit more than a mere "incident"!

The author explains the context, and how the whole issue arose from a bungling War Office and the crass behaviour of Generals Paget and Fergusson, who were in charge of the army in Ireland. More intelligent man management of their subordinates, and better communication and understanding all round would have headed off the whole problem. Churchill's "solution" was to deploy the Royal Navy to the Scottish coast and to offer to have "Belfast in flames in 24 hours". Thankfully, Prime Minister Asquith overruled him when he heard about it.

The author raises the interesting issue of whether the Curragh mutiny, and the distrust arising between the army and the politicians from it, damaged the performance of the army in WWI. He does not seem to provide a definitive answer, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary the answer must presumably be "no", but it is a fascinating matter to raise.

The attempts to solve the mutiny were as bizarre as the incident itself. These included Seely, the secretary of state for the War Office, even altering the compromise document without referring it back to the cabinet, which resulted in him being forced to resign at the end of March 1914. A similar fate befell Sir John French because of his involvement with that document, though of course he made a comeback, as it were, to lead the BEF in August.

This whole incident should be viewed in the light of British policy in Ireland of the era, which managed to go from inept to appalling, by the end of the decade. The book reminds us that the Germans supplied weapons to both the Unionists and the Nationalists, not least to create a diversion for the British from their problems in continental Europe both before WWI and during it. The author does deal effectively with the German connection, as it was in 1914 (and which later reached its peak with their practical support for the Easter rising in 1916).

The chapters at the start and end of the book deal with some background on the politics of Ireland, and also the aftermath of the incident. These are the less successful aspects of the book. To my mind, they should either not be there at all, or be more comprehensive and more balanced. Without wishing to walk on anyone's toes, these chapters are somewhat slanted toward an Irish Nationalist viewpoint, and so lack the balance achieved by the writings on Irish political history of authors such as ATQ Stewart or Keith Jeffrey. By way of example, yes, there were atrocities against northern Catholics in the early 20s, but there were also murders of Protestants especially in county Cork, resulting in an appeal from the protestant church leaders in southern Ireland to the then president, Arthur Griffith. Why mention one but not the other? Anyway, what relevance do events of the 20s have to the Curragh incident? And why is there a chapter on the murder of Sir Henry Wilson in London in 1922 at all? At least in dealing with period of the Curragh mutiny the book is thankfully clear that Wilson was a southern Irish protestant, a fact which seems to elude English writers on WWI, dare I say it, who forever refer to him as an Ulster Unionist. There were also southern Irish unionists and he was one of them!

It is an interesting book.

Reviewed by Trevor Adams


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Tue, 09 Sep 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Doctors in the Great War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/4020-doctors-in-the-great-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/4020-doctors-in-the-great-war.html Doctors Gt WarIan R Whitehead

Pen & Sword 2013, Pen & Sword Ltd, Barnsley South Yorkshire (Previously 1999)

£14.99, 309 pp, ill, sources, bibliog, index

ISBN Number 978 1 78346 174 5

his work by historian Ian R Whitehead highlights an area of the Great War that has been obvious to any student of the war, but not analysed and explored in detail until now. He has researched a vast number of official sources and non-official in an effort to ensure that those who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) can have their contribution to the Great War laid out in a fascinating timeline. Such was the demand for medical assistance that by 1918 he explains that 1 in 2 registered doctors, some 18,000 doctors, were on active service. This meant that half of all British medical doctors were serving mainly in France and Flanders and thus unable to provide the nation with medical care due to military service. He shows the impact this had on both the nation and the military.

The book is not a history of the RAMC and does not cover any impact this shortage of doctors had on civilian health. It covers the change that the war had on those qualified, registered medical practitioners who were taken from towns and cities across the nation and sent to deal with medical emergencies that so few had actually seen before. Moving from the quiet backwaters of medical practice in a town to the horror and devastation of the Western Front was a challenge for the medical men in so many ways.
The book takes us, from the background of military medical service from 1854, to 1914 when a step-change of incredible proportions took place. The military medical service up until then had been very poorly provided for and medical officers were seen as low status personnel and not being "fellow officers"; as such they lacked the authority and had no support mechanism to collect wounded men. As a result of the low status their pay was below that of other officers and many expenses had to be met by the doctor out of his own pocket. Such conditions dampened enthusiasm for medical recruits. Even Florence Nightingale had warned of the dire consequences the training, pay and conditions were having, and would have, on doctors but no one took heed. Doctors were seen as just doctors and not men who needed to understand military tactics.
Principal medical schools began to boycott the Army Medical Services and in 1898 the War Office reluctantly gave them equality of rank in a unified corps. One of the first tests of the new service was the Boer War and even then the British Medical Journal (BMJ) wanted to see an increase in medical officers.

When the Great War began, the medical military service was unprepared for the number and severity and wide-ranging injuries. Medical men in civilian practice began to volunteer. Retired doctors were brought back to take over civilian practices while the owner was away on medical services. War Emergency Committees were set up to help mobilization and to determine if a doctor who had attested to serve in the war should go. The Military Service Act of 1916 treated doctors as a separate case to others and the War Emergency Committees still considered if it was best for a doctor to leave his practice and go to war. Ultimately the end result was that neither the military or civilian service had an ideal result.

Medical students are discussed and the importance of ensuring they completed their studies in order to maintain an adequate supply of doctors in the future. One big change of the war also highlights the fact that the war caused many medical schools to open up their doors to females for the first time. Yet the army failed to appreciate the benefits that female medical doctors could provide them. The War Office was eventually forced to reconsider women in the RAMC.

For doctors who joined the RAMC they had to accept that their ethical code was in need of change. Loyalty to the need of the state took precedence over the needs of an individual, something that some found hard to achieve.

It was only by 1918 that the Army recognised that it needed to reconsider the training of Medical Officers. The process of evacuation of casualties is examined in detail, as is the advances in war surgery. It looks at the advances in preventing wound infection, so vital in the Casualty Clearing Stations. Medical Officers were paramount in maintaining heath and morale of the men. The RAMC was able to contribute significantly to treating and preventing traditional epidemical diseases while dealing with new diseases of the war such as Trench Fever and Trench Foot. The book points out that inoculation was still not compulsory and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases were conditions in which non-medical opinions were allowed to reign. Overall the Army Medical Services did a amazing job during the Great War.

The British government was forced to consider the contribution that the RAMC had contributed to the victory. The RAMC had to adapt and improvise medicine to face the new forms of injury that came in for treatment. Bullet and shell wounds, gas injuries, all horrific in their nature and so far divorced from what a medical man might see in civilian practice. The RAMC also made huge inroads into disease prevention, something the Army had to accept needed to be dealt with.

The book is a fascinating collection of facts about what took place in 1914-18. Today I work for Public Health, so was particularly keen to read this book. I was pleased to review and verify the facts of the story of the Doctors in the Great War. It is a book that has an easy-to-read style with sufficient detail to explain the various stages in the medical services during the war. It does paint a very clear picture of the challenges and victories won by the hard-pressed medical profession to change the way medical services were utilised then, and to provide a fit for purpose legacy for future combatants. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the medical services and the Great War. The book is referenced in detail and contains excellent photographs to illustrate the changing face of the medical services during the war.

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Peter Garwood


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:36:14 +0000
O Sector Vimy Ridge – A Multimedia Report http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/187-dvds-cds-etc/4019-o-sector-vimy-ridge-a-multimedia-report.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/187-dvds-cds-etc/4019-o-sector-vimy-ridge-a-multimedia-report.html O sector vimy ridgeThe Durand Group/Fougasse Films

Duration 96 minutes (additional CD ROM folder over an hour)

Published April 2007

Although this film and CD Rom of additional graphics was first released in time for the 90th Anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 2007, the content has not lost much of its dramatic impact. The graphics may today seem a little simplistic, but this helps the viewer understand the complex subject matter and keep up with events as they unfold.

The actual subject matter is two tunnels in the Vimy sector, originally dug by British Sappers in 1916. The research at the National Archives, uncovering diaries, maps, plans and photographs, eventually led to initial exploration as early as 1996 until finally excavation began in earnest in 2005. The film focuses on the work in one tunnel to determine whether a camouflet had prevented the explosives being detonated. The chalky tunnel is eventually broken through to, and a cornucopia of items is found – sacks of black crumbly ammonal, still in good condition, rubber air tubes, detonators, and even graffiti (the three dimension 'T' for tunnelers being especially poignant) including names and Army numbers of those who found themselves in the chthonic world, where every sense was heightened to detect the merest implication of the enemy nearby.

Some of the issues or problems encountered are covered – such as the further into the filled in tunnel the larger the pieces of chalk, which meant the portable conveyor belts began to struggle – until a solution in the form of sandbags was introduced. Also, to provide air to those working some ten plus metres below ground (a bore hole which was hooked up to a motor driven air supply along with a telephone cable). As the mine had not exploded in 1917, the group decided to neutralise the decaying explosive by "one man risk" protocol – in summary one man defusing the charges on his own. Tense minutes indeed.

The narration is clear, succinct and balances providing information with allowing the viewer to take in the amount of information (visually and audibly). Fittingly, the whole film is dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Watkins, who was killed attempting to create an entrance to the tunnels in 1998.

Reviewed by Richard Pursehouse


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) DVDs, CDs etc Tue, 02 Sep 2014 00:00:00 +0000
VCs of the First World War: Cambrai 1917 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3957-vcs-of-the-first-world-war-cambrai-1917.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/116-wfa-members-publications/3957-vcs-of-the-first-world-war-cambrai-1917.html VC First World WarThe History Press 2012, Stroud, Gloucestershire (Previously 2004)

£9.99 268 pp ill sources bibliog index

ISBN Number 978 0 7524 7668 1

This work by historian Gerald Gliddon builds on his previous works by devoting a single volume to fill the gaps in books about the men who won their Victoria Crosses from February to June in 1916 prior to the battle of the Somme and to cover the period August to December 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai. This is his twelfth book and concludes his coverage of the Western Front. Cambrai was famous for the use of tanks in large numbers with much ground gained only to be lost later. One can imagine the raised hopes of the men who fought here only to have them dashed as the Germans fought back.

He relates the lives of 43 men, 16 of whom were awarded their Victoria Crosses posthumously, in a vivid and detailed narrative. In his decade of research for this revised book, Gerald Gliddon has accessed every and reviewed every source imaginable to provide a wealth of new information for the reader and student of the conflict.

This book gives incredible detail on the man, from birth, their military service (for some into WWII) and post-war. As a result we can see the serviceman in his social setting, as well as his military setting. As you read this work you realise that these were men from all kinds of social classes, and men who worked in all sorts of trades and professions. When action was needed they did not flinch even when to continue was highly likely to cost them their life. It is this expression of the true grit shown by these men that Gliddon demonstrates with some unforgettable facts.

Taking as an example Corporal W R Cotter of the Buffs who won his VC in March 1915 near Hohenzollern Redoubt. This man was unique in that he must be the only VC winner to have a glass eye. He lost his eye in a pub fight but continued to serve in the army. His activities were mainly scouting and sniping even with one eye. He was involved in a bombing fight and one of his legs was blown off, and both arms were wounded. Despite this he continued throwing bombs and controlling the supply of bombs and SAA. He was only evacuated after 14 hours in the trenches. Following an operation for amputation he haemorrhaged and died. It takes great presence of mind to behave so calm and collected under such a withering attack of bombs and carry on with a counter-attack, despite such serious injuries.

Captain Richard Wain was in command of a three tank section of No1 Company, the 1st Tank Battalion at Marcoing, France. On 20 November 1917 they progressed to the Hindenberg Support Line and were held up by enemy trench mortar fire. One by one each of the three tanks was hit by mortar fire and knocked out of the action. Wain was wounded but jumped out grabbed a Lewis gun and fired at the enemy as he advanced covering the 50 yards to the trenches. He then captured the position and took some prisoners and put out of action four trench mortars and two machine guns. Despite bleeding profusely and being offered attention by stretcher bearers he grabbed a rifle and began firing at the retreating Germans only to be hit fatally in the head by a German sniper. His action saved the lives of many of the advancing infantry who were coming along behind him. This was the second VC to be won in the Tank Corps. Such unflinching attitude in continuing to attack the enemy by any means at his disposal even if his life was at risk is just another example in this book of the extraordinary bravery of the men.

These are ordinary men who did unbelievable things at moments when, in the minds of many, all was about to be lost. Their actions described in vivid detail give you a much greater insight into the bravery and courage these men were able to summon up just when it was needed.

It is a pleasure to read such a well written and detailed book which describes vividly the actions for which the Victoria Cross was awarded, and it makes you realise that a medal citation is a simplified and much shortened version of what took place. Behind every citation is a very interesting but longer story which Gliddon has uncovered. This is a book of 286 pages, illustrated with maps and relevant pictures as well as a picture of each man. It is a book that should be on the shelf of any serious student of the Battle of Cambrai or of the Victoria Cross.

Gliddon has clearly reviewed every reference in detail and has corrected a number of errors that had come to be accepted as fact.

Reviewed by Peter Garwood.


3135lish@gmail.com (Gerald Gliddon) WFA Members' Publications Thu, 28 Aug 2014 00:00:00 +0000
1914 Voices from the Battlefields http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3895-1914-voices-from-the-battlefields.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3895-1914-voices-from-the-battlefields.html voices battlefieldWritten by Matthew Richardson  

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


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sat, 26 Jul 2014 15:01:05 +0000
From Boer War to World War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3894-from-boer-war-to-world-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3894-from-boer-war-to-world-war.html boer worldUniversity of Oaklahoma Press

ISBN: 9780806142890

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


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Aunt J, Jessie Millar Wilson MBE, Wartime Memories of a Lady YMCA Volunteer in France 1915-1918 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3864-aunt-j-jessie-millar-wilson-mbe-wartime-memories-of-a-lady-ymca-volunteer-in-france-1915-1918.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3864-aunt-j-jessie-millar-wilson-mbe-wartime-memories-of-a-lady-ymca-volunteer-in-france-1915-1918.html aunt jEdited by Joan E Duncan

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


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sun, 13 Jul 2014 15:01:49 +0000
Broken Sword – The tumultuous Life of General Frank Crozier 1879-1937 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3863-broken-sword--the-tumultuous-life-of-general-frank-crozier-1879-1937.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3863-broken-sword--the-tumultuous-life-of-general-frank-crozier-1879-1937.html crozierWritten by Charles Messenger
Pen & Sword 2013, 230 pages including maps and illustrations
ISBN 978 1 84884 897 9

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

3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:54:34 +0000
Fighting the Germans Underground DVD http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/187-dvds-cds-etc/3862-fighting-the-germans-underground-dvd.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/187-dvds-cds-etc/3862-fighting-the-germans-underground-dvd.html durrandP73G3/ST19-21 Vimy Ridge (DVD), The Durand Group, 2009

97 minutes with additional features of:

  • Durand Group report on their work at Vimy Ridge
  • War Diary of 172nd Tunnelling Company, RE
  • Durand Group background information

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


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) DVDs, CDs etc Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:46:20 +0000
Teenage Tommy; Memoirs of a Cavalryman in the First World War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3860-teenage-tommy-memoirs-of-a-cavalryman-in-the-first-world-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/book-reviews/91-general-interest/3860-teenage-tommy-memoirs-of-a-cavalryman-in-the-first-world-war.html teenage tommyEdited by Richard van Emden

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

3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:39:15 +0000