Frontline Books is to be thanked for reissuing this important out of print account by the German commander in charge during most of the major battles the High Seas Fleet engaged in during World War I, including the famed Battle of Jutland. This account sheds useful light on the motivations behind the actions and methods employed by the High Seas Fleet before being ultimately interned after the war at Scapa Flow. Not only does the book provide an accurate documentary (from the German perspective) about the movements and actions of the German Navy during important engagements like Helgoland and Dogger Bank, it also gives us details about other little known German naval actions.
Even if it were to impart little else of historic value (and that is certainly not the case), this volume reveals the extent of the German military's (and this German high commander's in particular) anger at the way they believed their naval forces were unfairly dealt with by the British, and later the American navies. To the bitter end (and the end was indeed bitter) Scheer and those around and above him, never seemed able to fully grasp that naval warfare had evolved since the great battles of the 18th and 19th centuries, fought as they were then on the high seas between ships of the line!
Scheer never lessens in his outrage at the British Grand Fleet's refusal to fight him by sending out small forces to engage his warships a few at a time, so that his less formidable fleet could attempt to reduce their fleet to a size comparable to his own. He thought this plan would win the naval war for Germany, regardless of the successes of his submarine service, but his plan was repeatedly thwarted by the British tactic of using fleets of overwhelming force instead. Angered by this, he repeatedly implies that the British behaved in a cowardly manner and only avoided the German fleet out of fear they would be outgunned by Scheer's better-trained crews. However, his insistence that when British and German ships were of equal size and numbers his navy would always prevail, did not hold true on most occasions when the opposing sides actually met.
The British refusal to fight on his terms embittered Scheer, and doubtless contributed to his determination that his book about the German naval side of the conflict be published before most other accounts were written after the war ended. It was clearly a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation as a great naval commander despite Germany's humiliating loss.
Reading his account, one also feels his palpable disgust directed at the allies (and some cases the German High Command) as the naval war turned more and more against Germany. It clearly galled Scheer that his vaunted High Seas Fleet became more and more irrelevant, with only his submarine service hindering the British war effort at sea. Ominously Scheer's insistence of having been victimized by unfair tactics used by the allies echoes the all too familiar calls of a later generation of Germans for a future rematch-which we now know does occur 20 years later.
Of course no book by a German naval commander of Scheer's stature would be complete without reveling in the High Seas Fleet's great victory at Jutland (Skagerrak as the Germans called it). Despite having taken the brunt of damage and loss of tonnage in every other engagement with the Grand Fleet prior to Jutland, there is no question that, in strict terms of tonnage sunk and lives lost, the Germans somehow won the Battle of Jutland.
Although we now know there were many factors that allowed the Germans to emerge from Jutland perceived by many as the victors, ranging form weather, pure luck, and previously unknown defects in British battle cruiser designs, Scheer had a simpler take on the battle:
"Success was achieved due to the eagerness in attack, the efficient leadership through subordinates, and the admirable deeds of the crews full of an eminently warlike spirit"!
Jutland was truly the high water mark for the German Navy during the war so Scheer can be forgiven a bit of patriotic hyperbole. Unfortunately for Scheer, the German Naval effort seemed to go downhill after Jutland, a situation that led Germany to the desperate act of beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917. This was the move that ultimately brought the US into the war.
Sensing the limitations of his fleet of surface ships to prevail against the larger British Fleet, ever since the Battle of Jutland, Scheer agitated to all who would listen, up to and including the Kaiser, for beginning unrestricted submarine warfare against British bound shipping, which he became convinced was the only way that Germany could win the war.
While this tactic proved to be the folly that sealed Germany's ultimate doom, he never admitted his advice was incorrect and his analysis of the events leading up to the historic decision to beginning unrestricted submarine warfare was fascinating reading.
There is a great deal more useful information in the book covering many aspects of the German Navy up to and including the mutinies of 1918 that virtually ended the involvement of the German Navy in the war effort. The chapter explaining how Zeppelins were under the control of the German Navy and the ways the Navy found to use them provided a lot of new information about the contributions airships made to the German Navy for this historian.
Although of necessity most of the focus of this book involves very useful backstories about The German Navy during the war, there is much in this volume to interest any historian of the Great War who wishes to learn more about German ambitions, methods, and motivations.
Reviewed by Richard A Orr
US WWI Historian
St Charles Mo USA
The History Press, £25
240 pages, colour and black and white illustrations
ISBN 978 0 7524 9188 2
What's in a title? Often a great deal and the title itself can contribute significantly to a popular book's potential success. Given the titles of this and another recent addition to the literature of the Home Front, "The Huns have got my gramaphone", first impressions can be misleading.
Publishers are notorious for giving their books misleading titles though authors should resist their worst excesses. Clearly Lucinda Gosling did not resist enough. The title of her book is hugely misleading. It suggests a general history of the war on the Home Front when it is, largely, a survey of middle and upper-class women's magazines of the period all taken from a single, though extensive, source the Mary Evans Picture Library of which the author has been an historical specialist since 2007. The Introduction, somewhat indirectly, sets out that the book will be a view of the war through the lens of magazines such as The Tatler, The Sketch and The Sphere but a simple, upfront, statement would have helped.
If one puts aside this initial problem how does the book fare in its more modest task? The results are mixed.
Many of the copious illustrations are newly published; the Kitchener and Jellicoe ladies garters are extraordinary and, on her own ground, the chapters on fashion and royalty are the best examples, Gosling is an informative and interesting writer. But even here she doesn't go much beyond simple narrative; there is no attempt to draw wider conclusions. For example she might easily have made more about the Royal family's involvement in the war. 1914-18 was the period during which 'modern' royalty as we know it was invented with its members doing 'real' jobs and the King and Queen inventing the royal walkabout.
At the other end of the scale the chapter on Charity and Fundraising is the most flawed. Imagine a review of Britain's military contribution to the war which didn't mention the Somme or Passchendaele. There is no mention of the extensive and hugely successful coordination of charitable activity through Sir Edward Ward, the Director General of Voluntary Organisations, or of government intervention with the War Charities Act. In mentioning 'Our Day' Gosling fails to say that it was the annual highlight of The Times campaign in aid of the Red Cross which raised a staggering £16 million. The limited sources of Gosling's research leads her into support for the totally outdated view that charitable causes were the exclusive territory of the middle and upper classes which, especially later in the war, is an entirely mistaken view.
Inevitably there are some fascinating insights into the war and, more especially, the British class system and, as a study of a specific group of primary sources, the book is a welcome addition to our understanding of the home front. Unfortunately by masquerading as something more, at least in the way presented by the publishers, Great War Britain fails its wider remit.
Reviewed by Dr Peter Grant
Bodleian Library Publishing, £8.99,
112 pages, 50 black and white illustrations.
ISBN 978 1 85124 399 0
The Huns have got my Gramophone is a modest endeavour, a light-hearted selection of adverts from the war period.
Conversely, however, it is a far more comprehensive and revealing study of the Home Front than Gosling's "Great War Britain: The First World War at Home". The writers do an admirable job given the limitations of the book's 110 pocket-sized pages and the wide-ranging nature of their examples. Quite rightly they see the period as one of rapid innovation in advertising, yet another aspect of everyday life where the war contributed to change, and their examples are carefully chosen and juxtaposed.
Many of the adverts are remarkably modern, like those for Venn's women's underwear. There are some fascinating facts such as Haig's views on motor transport or the number of miners who became officers (1,016) as well as some real revelations.
The authors highlight that, but for the war, there would have been no Rolls Royce aero engines or Bentley cars for example. But my favourite is the birth of 'unisex' clothing which, to some extent, confirms the view that the war contributed to positive changes for women. A great little book.
Reviewed by Dr Peter Grant
This is the story of the author as a boy from when he joined Kitchener's Army, as one of the first in 1914, until Armistice Day, November 1918. There have been many participants' recollections of this kind and having read several of them this is one that particularly stands out for me.
When reading these books one obviously tries to put oneself in a similar position as a very young man entering into and enduring trench warfare on the Western Front. This is an informal plain every-day tale but probably comes nearer to telling the truth than other tales. It is quite comprehensive in fact, in the description of the training, the horrors of the trenches, the lack of food, the stenches and constant noise. One can believe the sort of numbness he and his comrades felt as they ploughed on through the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.
This book also has an introduction by John Terraine outlining the areas where and circumstances by which he fought, and in doing so explains some of the extreme bravery.
A minor classic.
Lieutenant Martin's Letters is written by his niece, Anne McCosker. It provides an account of the military service of a young Queenslander, Fred Martin, who served in the 9th and 10th Battalions of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) between 1914 and 1917. The book has been assembled from Fred Martin's letters, written to relatives in Australia, together with the author's background research including her personal experience of living in New Guinea and more recently in the Weymouth area, the UK wartime location of a substantial Australian military camp and hospital.
Fred Martin, the son of a schoolteacher, was born in 1895 in South Kolan, Queensland, north of Brisbane. Following a 1910 report by Lord Kitchener on Australia's defence needs, the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia instituted a system of compulsory military training for all males aged between 12 and 26, which included drill, rifle practice, first aid and physical exercise, in which Fred participated. In 1913 he joined the part-time 2nd Battalion of the Royal Queensland Regiment (also known as the Kennedy Regiment), originally formed some decades earlier as a citizen's militia. Immediately after the declaration of War, the Government received a request from London to seize German wireless stations in several Pacific island locations including Rabaul, New Guinea. Martin, with others in his Battalion, arrived at Port Moresby on 18 August but their onward journey was terminated by a combination of mutiny by the firemen on the troopship and recognition that the 'part-time' soldiers were inexperienced and lacking in equipment.
In January 1915, back in Australia, Martin voluntarily enlisted for service in the AIF, joining the 9th Battalion. Promoted to Sergeant in March 1915 he embarked with the 5th reinforcements in April, arriving at Alexandria on 26 May. By the end of June he had landed at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, where he stayed until being evacuated on medical grounds to Malta in September 1915 and then to Birmingham Hospital where he received treatment for enteric fever before transferring in late December to Weymouth for convalescence. It was not until the end of August 1916 that he managed to regain his health sufficiently to achieve his desired move to the Western Front, receiving a Military Medal for his part in action near Guedecourt on 24/25 February 1917. This was followed by promotion to 2nd-Lieutenant, transfer to the 10th Battalion AIF, and action in the "Battle of Polygon Wood" (September 1917).
The book is very much the personal story of Fred Martin, rather than the bigger picture of AIF involvement in the War. The author has concentrated on her strengths: Martin's family history, her familiarity with New Guinea, and her personal experience of being an Australian living in Britain (albeit in a later era). Using transcripts of Martin's letters, she has added relevant information from his service records (which on occasion differ from the detail of Martin's own account), and has included transcripts or photographs of relevant newspaper cuttings. I usually enjoy the accounts of experiences of individual servicemen and this was no exception, although on occasion, editing and proof-reading could have been improved. Unfortunately, while the images on the front cover are of excellent quality, many of the images used in the text have not survived the printing process in very good shape. Some newspaper cuttings and other documents are also too small or faint to be read easily in their entirety.
Reviewed by Chris Payne
He was a Scottish soldier-statesman of the type that built the British Empire and maintained order where chaos would have reigned. A master of several languages including Arabic, he was part of the party sent to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, arriving shortly after Gordon had been murdered. He was Kitchener's intelligence officer and played an important role in the recovery of the Sudan from Dervish control and was thus appointed governor-general to oversee the task of reconstruction. The way in which he went about this reconstruction would have taught the current British and American politicians a thing or too about Afghanistan!!
During the First World War Wingate took a leading role in organising the Arab revolt against the Turks, his subordinate was T E Lawrence. Appointed High Commissioner of Egypt, he took a firm stand in defence of the Egyptian people at the Paris Peace Conference.
When he retired from public life, he returned home to Scotland and established a successful business career in which he was active until his death in 1953.
The author has done a splendid job in telling his story and also alerting us to how fame can be a fickle thing. Generations of families have long served the British military and with some distinction, with Sir Francis deserving to be the most famous of his family, the Wingates. However, this is not the case and his cousin's son, Major General Orde Wingate, is the one who reaps the family fame.
However, the author has delivered a very good account of this lesser know figure of British Military and Political significance. The time in which he lived and fought is often overlooked as many of "Victoria's little War's". However, it was an era of great significance and of high events.
A recommended read for anyone who wishes to understand the nature of events of the time and the role played by one of Britain's forgotten men.
Reviewed by Ian T Hodkinson
Fred Cofield, Edited by Rob Wood
ISBN Number 978-0-9574459-4-9
Salient Books 2014
215pp with photographs
By Paul McNicholls
Fred Cofield was born in 1892 in Sutton Coldfield. His childhood was difficult and, after his parents split up, he found himself living with an "uncle" who recommended he join the Royal Navy. This he did at the age of 16 and he remained in the navy until 1918.
Fred joined the Invincible Class Battlecruiser HMS Inflexible in November 1912 and embarked upon a lengthy deployment to the Mediterranean. This is the "Millionaire's Cruise" reference in the book's subtitle. Fred tells us about his travels to Greece for the funeral of the assassinated King George and later for the coronation of his successor King Constantine. Along the way we receive some commentary on the Balkan Wars and lower deck gossip (not always accurate) of world events. We hear of visits to Alexandria, Corfu and various other ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. Frequently we read Fred's comments, made in later life when reviewing his diaries, which usually say something along the lines of "and we got paid as well". He certainly comes across as enjoying this part of his life.
A large part of the book (pp 9-117) deals with this pre-war deployment. Fred's entries are quite brief and often deal with the mundane. For those interested in the musings of naval personnel of this era, Fred's observations are not as expansive as those found in "Scrimgeour's Small Scribbling Diary" or "The Enemy Fought Splendidly" for example. However these were written by officers, in the latter case a surgeon. Fred is a man of humble origins and limited formal education, though we find that, despite his spelling errors (which the editor has quite rightly left in), he has intelligence and ambition.
Fred's observations are those of the lower deck and, though they may be mundane, we learn things about the navy and about Fred himself. We are informed of the pride taken by the crew in the speed of Inflexible's frequent coalings. We hear of Fred's normal routine of dodging inspections and his exploits ashore with the ladies of Malta. He is circumspect in his descriptions, but he is young and readers can use their imaginations. We find out about bathing in the sea after charges have been fired to scare off sharks. Occasionally we are told of fatalities such as Boy Telegraphist Percy Stuart being killed by a coal hoist motor that "smashed everything out of him". Life in the navy could be dangerous even in peacetime.
With the outbreak of war the Inflexible was involved in the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau and was then dispatched to the South Atlantic, along with her sister HMS Invincible, to deal with Admiral Von Spee's Asiatic Squadron fresh from its victory at the Battle of Coronel. The resulting Battle of the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914 is described by Fred in two entries. The first, and shorter one, is a contemporary description. The second, in greater detail, appears to have been written early the following year. One interesting aspect is the reception of news aboard the Inflexible that Invincible was claiming credit for the victory. This did not sit well with Fred and his shipmates and ultimately led to Admiral Sturdee addressing both crews.
Perhaps the most interesting wartime entry is Fred's description of the aftermath of Inflexible hitting a mine during the famous attempt to force the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. I had not seen a first-hand account of this occurrence with this level of detail before and for naval buffs it makes compelling reading.
Fred would continue to serve aboard the Inflexible for the rest of the war and saw service at the Battle of Jutland. Whether due to restrictions of time or the order forbidding the keeping of a diary, other than a 2 ½ page description of the escorting the German High Seas Fleet to its surrender in November 1918, the diary ceases with the aftermath of the Dardanelles mine explosion.
A really nice addition to the book is Fred's autobiography, largely written in the early 1960's. One gets a sense that he is writing for the benefit of his family, perhaps to explain the decisions he made that kept him away from them for lengthy periods. Fred was clearly a man of intelligence and ambition and Britain in the 1920's could be a difficult place for anyone, let alone a man of humble origins with limited formal training and no connections. However, in 1928 he secured a position with the Sudan Government as a mechanical (electrical) engineer. This meant leaving his wife and three children, though they would make regular visits to the Sudan and he received three months leave each year that he spent with them in England. Fred's Sudan service allowed him to mingle in social circles that would have been off limits to him had he remained in England and this comes across as being of great importance to him. He comments with regret that the outbreak of the Second World War, and the consequent dispersal of a number of key individuals, denied him the opportunity to become a freemason.
Fred would remain in the Sudan throughout much of the Second World War, but retired in 1943 and returned to England. He was now in his early 50's, but his adventures were not at an end. Subsequently he found himself going through officer training and ultimately rising to the rank of captain in the RASC. His service would take him to Normandy, Brussels and Antwerp before he was demobbed in 1945.
Fred's post war reflections deal with concerns over the long-term status of his Sudan Government pension after the country's independence, along with a somewhat melancholy summing of his relationship with his wife Annie (Nance). Fred had a wide range of interests and he laments her "couldn't care less" attitude. However in a later addition to the diary written after Nance's passing, he comments on how much he misses her.
Frequently old diaries found tucked away in the family home can be of such mundane content that browsing a few pages is all that is required to derive the maximum benefit. I have to admit that, as I opened the first pages of this book, I wondered if that is what I would be confronted with. It was not. Overall the book made enjoyable and interesting reading and I was happy to overlook Fred's comment in his autobiography connecting Oliver Cromwell with the Bayeux Tapestry. I would recommend this book to those with a naval interest of the First World War, as well as life on the lower deck in the years immediately prior to it. Mostly though it was interesting to hear the tale of a man of humble origins who made good and led an interesting life.
Reviewed by Paul Lyndy
This is not a history of the Gallipoli campaign, but rather a series of key despatches, reproduced in the same form as originally published in the UK; they are apparently not modified or interpreted in any way. It contains a brief introduction to the campaign and a list of relevant abbreviations.
The despatches comprise:
Hamilton believed that the campaign could be successful, long after others had realised the futility of carrying on. In his third despatch he describes the problems with obtaining enough water supplies for the men and bemoaned the lack of reinforcements, which he believed would have turned the tide in the Allies' favour. He objected to being asked for an estimate of possible losses if there was an evacuation of the region.
His successor's report described the objectives of the campaign and the issues involved. He recommended evacuation and went on to describe how this was achieved. Despite a few minor problems, Monro considered the evacuation to have been a success; apparently the Turkish forces appeared unaware of what was happening until the men had been safely boarded onto ships.
There is an index of persons and military and naval units and an advertisement for 'Find my past' detailing the various relevant sources it holds.
This is a book for the specialist and there is a considerable amount of information. However, for the 'average' WFA member, it is likely to be far too erudite. Although I am interested in the Gallipoli campaign, I must confess to skipping some of the detail.
Reviewed by Kate Thompson
Bodleian Library, Oxford 2014
260 pages, illustrations
This anthology is built around ten people, ranging from prime minister Herbert Asquith, through soldiers to one of Oxford's leading academics of the time, Professor Gilbert Murray. It covers the years 1914-16 and is drawn from the Bodleian Library Archives. What the scribes have in common is that they were all Oxford men. As Sir Hew Strachan writes in his perceptive Foreword:
' ... the University had identified with public life, with the capacity to prepare undergraduates to lead the nation and with the need to generate fresh solutions to match the demands created by Britain's sap0rawling responsibilities.'
The book begins with the last week of July 1914, with the Government hoping to keep Britain out of what was rapidly becoming an inevitable European conflict. Lewis Harcourt, the colonial secretary, was strongly in favour of this and right up until the eleventh hour was attempting to organise a majority against war within the Cabinet. What is invaluable about his diary is that he made notes of Cabinet meetings, thus providing us with a feel for the tensions that existed. Herbert Asquith himself is even more indiscreet with the intimate letters that he writes to Venetia Stanley. Neither man seems to have much liked Winston Churchill, especially in his attempts to dominate Cabinet. Between them, though, they give a very good picture of how the Government increasingly wrestled with an ever wider range of problems, the story ending with its fall in December 1916.
Among the soldiers, future prime minister Harold Macmillan is initially unenthusiastic about the prospect of war, but does enlist, eventually serving in France with the Grenadier Guards. He takes his duties seriously and has an eye for the minutiae of military life. His active soldering would end with his wounding, for the third time, on the Somme in September 1916. T E Lawrence, on the other hand, seems surprised that the Army should want his services, but his knowledge of Palestine made him a natural for Intelligence. During this phase of the way he was largely tied to his office at GHQ in Cairo, but there is a description of his fruitless parley with the Turks over the fate of the British garrison of Kut el Amara. Another who produces some fascinating descriptions is Burgon Bickersteth of the Royal Dragoons. Waiting with his fellow cavalrymen for the creation of G in Gap during the early days of July 1916 on the Somme, he was able to observe some of the British attacks and wrote in detail about them in a long 30-page letter.
The Home Fronts is certainly not neglected, with Gilbert Murray concerning himself with Conscientious Objectors and the Reverend Andrew Clark, rector of an Essex parish, writing of a visit to Oxford shortly after the establishment of Officer Cadet battalions there. Among the 'walk on parts' are Ethel Whitehouse's description of the shooting down of a Zeppelin. There is also an impression of a mood of pessimism hanging over Britain as the Somme battle degenerated into virtual stalemate.
Other fronts – Africa and Salonika – are also covered, as is the war at sea. It is indeed a rich pot pourri and Mike Webb is to be much congratulated for the skill with which he has selected the extracts and put them into context.
Reviewed by Charles Messenger
By Andrew Robertshaw and David Kenyon
Pen & Sword Archaeology, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, 2014 (First published in hardback form by Pen & Sword Military in 2008)
£16.99 pp. 199 plus brief notes and index
ISBN 978 1 47382 288 7
I was pleased when this title dropped through my letterbox for review. I do not know David Kenyon but I have heard Andy Robertshaw speak on a few occasions and he has always been informative, enthusiastic and stimulating. I expected that the book would be in the same vein and, sure enough, it was.
The book claims to tell of the development of battlefield archaeology in the past decade or two but, in reality, it does much more than that, as will become apparent below. It was first published in hardback in 2008 and in publishing this paperback edition the authors decided to "retain the book in its original form" as they are of the view that it remains a "thorough and up to date review" of battlefield archaeology. They have, though, taken the opportunity to add an interesting preface that summarises developments in the field since the first edition; in particular, the difficulties of finding sustained and editorially neutral funding beyond the television companies for work on the Western Front itself. The preface also mentions the threat to the physical evidence on the battlefield sites from continuing urban, agricultural and transport developments.
The Introduction to the 2008 edition opens with a moving account of the funeral in the spring of 2004 of a British soldier disinterred by an archaeological team. This is the first but by no means the only display of emotion by the authors. The accounts of the finding of the British soldier and the attempt to identify him, together with the discovery and identification of the bodies of three German soldiers, form the last chapter of the book. So in the opening and closing pages the authors demonstrate the very human side of much of their work and how it can touch families and friends across the generations. As they say themselves, "Almost everyone in the team has had a moment ... where they have had to stop ... for fear their emotions would overcome them ... The day that uncovering the remains of soldiers leaves us unmoved emotionally is the day that we have lost something of our basic humanity ...".
The Introduction continues by setting the historical and archaeological scene, including the genesis of the authors' archaeological work at Avril Williams' guest-house in Auchonvillers, the subsequent developments at other sites and the creation of TV series such as 'Finding the Fallen'. Contrasts are drawn between memorialisation, aspects of 'heritage marketing' and the ability of the battlefield archaeologist to present something of the experience of the soldiers themselves. The authors challenge the complaints of those in conventional strands of archaeology that, academically, the excavation of battlefields reveals little, and assert that the book makes clear that much new knowledge about the war can be gained from digging. I am not sure that the book settles this debate conclusively. The authors certainly make discoveries, as much about the application of archaeological techniques to relatively recent battlefields as to the progress of the Great War itself, but some of their findings seem to be reinforcing the existing actual or inferred knowledge of the conflict.
The body of the book breaks down into five major chapters: the trenches today; the digging of the trenches during the war, highlighting differing and evolving styles of construction; living in the trenches; fighting in the trenches; and death in the trenches. I found this a very effective structure, taking me through the natural sequence of events. The archaeological content is at its highest in the first two sections but then reduces before coming back strongly in the final section. Consequently, as mentioned above, the book is as informative about the soldiers' experiences in the trenches as it is about the archaeology of those trenches, and explains why I wonder whether the debate between the conventional and battlefield archaeologists is wholly resolved. I suspect that parts of the book could have been written in a non-archaeological context from general historical knowledge of the day-to-day progress of the war.
In considering the trenches today the authors first explain how, within only a few years, the "physical traces of the fighting" were "replaced by a post-war memorial landscape". They draw what was for me a telling and potentially controversial comparison: "the cemeteries with their ordered rows of headstones and their immaculate planting are the antithesis of what actually took place in the bloody chaos of battle. If ever death was 'dulce et decorum' it is in a Commonwealth cemetery." The point being made is that the style and even the location of the cemeteries and memorials can mislead the visitor about the reality of battlefield existence and experience. It is a point well made with a number of examples.
The remainder of the Trenches Today chapter addresses the questions of what makes the Western Front a special case in the archaeological field, what are the key objectives of the Great War archaeologists, and what are the peculiar characteristics of battlefield archaeology? I found this all fascinating: the distinction between 'finds' and 'features'; the importance of 'context'; the public focus on monetary rather than historical value; the science of preservation and decay (taphonomy); the deposit and layering of artefacts and objects (stratigraphy); the dangers of uncovering unexploded ordnance; and the painstaking examination and interpretation. There is also the first glimpse of the authors' intense distaste for unethical metal-detectorists who strip sites and desecrate human remains in their search for a quick buck.
Not surprisingly, in the Digging the Trenches chapter the archaeological component is still high, and just as fascinating. It opens with one of many myth-busters that are so typical of at least one of the authors. The British soldier in 1914 was equipped and trained, at least to a limited extent, in the craft of digging trenches, from a humble scrape to a deep inter-connected trench system. Experience from the American Civil War, the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War had conditioned the equipment, training and field manuals of the BEF throughout the years preceding 1914. The authors describe their experiences excavating a variety of British, French and German trenches in a number of locations around Ypres and on the Somme. Identification of a trench location is by no means straightforward and the interpretation of a dig, with possibly layers of trenches laid down over time, is more than a little demanding. Consideration is given to the evolution of the structure of trenches from 1914 through 1915-16 to 1917-18, often dependent upon local geological features. The different types of trench, e.g. front-line, communication, support, are also examined. In addition, there are interesting diversions into, for example, communication and telephony techniques, trench mapping, defence in depth, dispersal of fortifications and field toilets. The lovely word 'frowsty' gets a mention too. One interesting aspect is the trench-building lessons learnt by the archaeologists themselves as they restored some of the trench network they had uncovered.
Living in the Trenches describes the garrisoning of the trench systems. It is here that the archaeological content reduces somewhat but, nevertheless, the chapter is an absorbing account of day-to-day trench life. Again, another myth is tackled in the opening paragraphs: the misconception that troops stayed in the line for long periods is corrected by a description of company, battalion, brigade and even division and corps rotation. A nice personal touch is introduced by one of the author's grandfathers being used as an example of one soldier's experience of life in the trenches. The section continues by looking at the daily round (mostly nocturnal), food, comforts, hygiene and cleanliness, and personal items. The section on food throws up [pun unintended] some delightful facts about the diet of soldiers and pre-war civilians and the need not to overload the digestive system with protein. Contrasts are also drawn between British, French and German rations. The important archaeological point is made that every trench excavation uncovers huge amounts of food waste and that much was thrown into no-man's-land or behind the trench thereby exacerbating the problems with flies and rats more usually attributed to the "iconic unburied dead". There is also the slightly macabre warning that just because bones are found alongside discarded equipment "it does not mean that they aren't simply the leftovers from a lamb stew". Comforts from home and other personal items, the authors comment, provide some of the most poignant artefacts found during excavation. Consideration of cleanliness and hygiene inevitably requires the uncovering and analysis of latrine buckets.
The chapter on Fighting in the Trenches opens by reminding the reader of the primary reason for the soldiers being there: killing the enemy. The authors ponder how this part of the soldier's experience is furthest from our own lives, and how death was random and came in many forms, all of which are reflected to some extent in any archaeological remains. There follow sections on artillery, machine guns, personal weapons and equipment, the form of an attack, and evolving technology, all illustrated by reference to archaeological finds. As regards artillery, interesting observations are made regarding the different nature of shell craters according to the trajectory of the guns used and the impact of shrapnel on barbed wire entanglements. Evidence regarding machine guns is quite limited as they were simply too large and valuable, even if just for their parts, to be abandoned frequently, but there is an engaging paragraph on the taphonomy of Lewis gun cartridge drums. Items of personal equipment abound in varying stages of decay, leather surviving where webbing does not, apart from the brass components. The authors warn of the danger of misinterpretation due to the differential preservation. Visitors to the excavation at Thiepval Wood on the Somme are introduced to the reality of the nature of an attack using saps into no-man's-land, and the classic myth of waves of soldiers walking into a hail of machine gun fire is shown to be largely, but not entirely, misleading. The section on personal weapons including grenades, particularly for hand-to-hand trench fighting, is slightly chilling. The authors describe in some detail the various mortar sites they have unearthed but when it comes to tanks they remark, perhaps in a slightly regretful tone, that "the team has not yet had the chance to look for one of these monsters".
The chapter on Death in the Trenches starts by summarising some of the key statistics of the human cost of the Great War, many of which will be familiar to readers. A key point made by the authors, reinforcing their theme about the memorialisation of the battlefields, is that "the vast cemeteries that dot the battlefield ... represent a significant minority of those who served there, but not the majority that popular opinion might suggest". The experience of the wounded soldier is considered at some length, with references to finds made at Beaumont Hamel and Auchonvillers. This section includes tributes to the bravery of doctors, stretcher-bearers and Roman Catholic chaplains. The treatment of the dead is then considered and, not surprisingly, this was very dependent on the military situation at the time. Burial processes during the war and afterwards are dealt with, as are the problems of decomposition and damage by rats and maggots. As is well known, identification was very often impossible for reasons discussed by the authors and this issue leads into a section on the 'missing', a word that has different definitions in the world of 'Remembrance' and the system of the army, which has frequently led to confusion. The early sections of this chapter provide the foundations for the closing part, which returns to archaeology and the topics of the ethics and technicalities of excavation of the dead. The emotional quotations at the beginning of this review are from this part of the book. The archaeologists have clearly faced some difficult questions of themselves and from others about the sanctity of the battlefield and the appropriateness of the investigations undertaken on the dead. It is to their credit that the authors do not sweep this issue under the carpet but deal with it openly, making their own views clear. Clearly, as regards the teams to whom this book refers, significant care has been taken to protect the dignity of the disinterred soldier.
The book closes with the four case studies already referred to above, each one of which highlights one of the early and key points made by the authors that battlefield archaeology is embedded in the humanity of the soldiers.
I really enjoyed this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
Reviewed by David Parmee