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First World War

Grandad's WarGranddad’s War  by Ted Barnes

Review by Capt Alex Janaway, RAMC(V)

THIS is a loving and well-researched tribute to Herbert Barnes, the author’s grandfather.

Inspired by Herbert’s "everyman" experience of fighting in the Great War, the title recounts how he joined the Army in 1915, becoming part of the renowned Norfolk Regiment.

Part memoir, part history book, it follows Herbert and the regiment as they fight in the bloody engagements of the Somme, Artois and Ypres through to the end of the war in 1918.

Interspersed with this tale of the grander machinations of the war, there are quieter moments as Herbert returns home on leave and also spends time recuperating after getting a ‘Blighty’.

Grandad’s War is a fine addition to the tradition of passionate writers who help bring the conflict to life through the tales of ordinary people who found themselves caught up in the events of the time.




Birmingham Pals by Terry CarterBirmingham Pals by Terry Carter

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

THE phenomenon of the "Pals" battalions dominates any history of Kitchener’s Army and the high-profile role it played during the Great War.

This particular book tells the story of the three thousand volunteers who enlisted on the crest of the wave of patriotic fervour that swept the midlands of England during the summer of 1914.

Birmingham Pals is packed with maps, photographs and detail. I think it is a comprehensive history of a unique episode in British Army history.





Christmas in the TrenchesChristmas in the Trenches by Alan Wakefield

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

THE Regular soldiers who marched off to battle in 1914 did so in the belief that the war to end all wars would be over by Christmas. Few of the original British Expeditionary Force would survive to see the sixth Christmas of the war in 1919.

By the end of the Great War millions of men from all over the British Empire and Commonwealth had spent the festive season in the less than festive environment of the front line. This book tells the story of those consecutive winters in great detail. Packed with personal accounts, pictures and archive material, this book is good value and an ideal Christmas present.





Fromelles 1916: No Finer Courage – The Loss of an English Village by Michael Senior

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

IN recent years the Battle of Fromelles has regularly featured in the international news. This intense media interest was triggered by the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of previously missing, British and Australian soldiers.

The high-profile role of Australian researchers in locating the grave and subsequently identifying the Australian dead featured prominently in the extensive media coverage that followed.

This book goes some way to re-balancing the story, as it tells the fascinating story of a group of soldiers from one Buckinghamshire village in intimate and engaging detail.

From Geordie Land to No Mans LandFrom Geordie Land to No Mans Land by George Russell Elder

Review by Lt Col (Retd) Dawson Pratt, R Signals

THE author, a proud Geordie, kept diaries of his life as a gunner on the Western Front during the First World War. He gives a detailed account of events over a period of four years and writes about the privations of the battlefield, about the mud, wet, cold and hunger and the constant fear of death.

George Elder gains strength from the close bond with fellow Geordies and talks about refusing to go to hospital because he could be transferred to another unit on discharge.

A detailed and descriptive book written with humour; enjoyable and inspirational to read.






Lady Under FireLady Under Fire on the Western Front: The Great War Letters of Lady Dorothie Feilding edited by Andrew & Nicola Hallam

Review by Dr Rodney Atwood, military historian

LADY Dorothie Feilding, haggard with exhaustion from service in Flanders, looks at the reader from the cover of this book. 

She was a remarkable woman but also one of her generation, volunteering as an ambulance driver in 1914 and awarded the Military Medal, the Croix de Guerre and the Belgian Order of Leopold II for courage and service to the wounded of three nations. 

Her letters are well worth reading, full of interest and mostly cheerful. The editors’ comments unfortunately leave many gaps.







Last Man Standing edited by Richard van EmdenLast Man Standing: The Memoirs, Letters & Photographs of a Teenage Officer edited by Richard van Emden

Review by Dr Rodney Atwood

Nineteen-year-old Norman Collins was commissioned from the ranks of the Seaforth Highlanders in summer 1916, reached the trenches during the Somme battles and served in 1917 at Arras and on the periphery of Messines. Wounded in July 1917 he saw no further action. 

His collection of letters, photographs and the record of interviews as an old man are a treasure trove of information on Western Front fighting.

The claim that he had a photographic memory must, however, raise doubts. Did most of the wounded lying in no man’s land really have their testicles blown off? Editing is scrappy.




Pill Boxes on the Western FrontPill Boxes on the Western Front by Peter Oldham

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

THIS is a re-print of a guide to the design and construction of concrete pill boxes from 1914-1918.

At first glance not much that would appeal to the average non-sapper! But actually, this is quite a treasure trove of Western Front information and data.

Although technical in nature and content, this book remains interesting and easy to read. That said it is this reviewer's opinion that it will only appeal to hardened battlefield tourists and the engineers among the Soldier readership.






Sheffield BattalionSheffield City Battalion: The 12th (Service) Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment by Ralph Gibson and Paul Oldfield

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

THE phenomenon of Kitchener's Citizen Army and the Pals Battalions is encapsulated in this comprehensive and emotive history.

The Sheffield Pals were at the centre of what became known as the blackest day in the history of the British Army – July 1, 1916.

This excellent history tells the story of men from every background in Sheffield from the raising of the battalion, through the debacle of the Somme and beyond.

Packed with maps, photographs and personal histories it is an authorative standalone battalion history ideal for the Western Front expert or the novice.



Tig's BoysTig's Boys: Letters to Sir from the trenches edited by David Hilliam

Review by Maj Mike Peters, AAC

THIS is an unusual, interesting and intriguing snapshot of the Great War, as seen through the eyes of the old boys of Bournemouth Grammar School.

Using dozens of letters written by former pupils to their headmaster, Dr Edward Fenwick (known as Tig), the title provides an insight into every theatre of operation, every service and almost every battle.

The sub-text of the narrative is the transformation of Edwardian society, induced by the horrors of the war to end all wars and the effect that it had on the young men of Bournemouth Grammar School who fought in it.



The Killing GroundThe Killing Ground by Tim Travers 

Review by Dr Rodney Atwood, military historian

THIS important book was originally published in 1987 and broke new ground. Tim Travers in some ways inherited the mantle of Liddell Hart, whose papers he uses, as a critic of Haig.

Detailed research traces Haig’s ideas to the Edwardian army with its difficulty in grasping new technology; outlines his inflexible interpretation of staff college teaching; discusses failings in leadership on the Somme; recrimination in the official history over 3rd Ypres; and the sacrifice of Gough and the 5th Army in Ludendorff’s March Offensive. 

Pen & Sword have rendered a service in republishing this book. Will they bring out the sequel How the War Was Won?




The Platoon: An Infantryman on the Western Front 1916-1918 by Joseph Johns Steward (edited by Andrew Robertshaw & Steve Roberts)

Review by Lt Col (Retd) Dawson Pratt, R Signals

JOSPEH Steward joined the Civil Service Rifles (15th London Regiment) in 1916 and fought on the Western Front from the Battle of the Somme until the last offensive in 1918.

He recorded his experiences and events in accurate detail and later wrote a narrative about his war, his comrades and his platoon.

Joseph’s work has been edited by Andrew Robertshaw and Steve Roberts and their book provides a fascinating example of the war on the front line for the ordinary soldier for whom rations, letters from home, leave and comradeship were more important than strategy, tactics and higher command.

The Underground War:The Underground War Vimy Ridge to Arras by Phillip Robinson and Nigel Cave

Review by Lt Col (Retd) Dawson Pratt, R Signals

THIS book is about underground warfare on the Western Front in the First World War, from Vimy Ridge to Arras. The story of heroic men who tunnelled and mined for supremacy underground, men who never received the recognition they deserved.

It is a superb account of the development of tunnelling techniques and contains vivid personal descriptions of a different kind of warfare. Phillip Robinson and Nigel Cave are writing three further books on tunnelling – the Somme, Ypres and French Flanders.

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