Review of contrasting books on Warwick in the Great War

Coventry and Warwickshire 1914-1919: local aspects of the Great War, volumes 1 and 2
edited by Chris Holland with essays from Janet Leith, Janet Courtney, Susan Tall, James Sambrook, Gillian Ashley-Smith, Jeromy Hassell, Philip Spinks, Peter Huxford, Sheila Woolf and David Paterson
published by Warwickshire Great War Publications, vol 1 in 2012 and vol 2 in 2014
ISBN (vol 1) 978 0 9574216 1 5 and (vol 2) 978 0 9574216 3 9
Both paperback. 137pp and 160pp. Illustrated. Indexed.
Cover price £9.95 each.

Two volumes of essays on the Great War in the area of Coventry, Kenilworth, Warwick, Leamington Spa, Rugby and Nuneaton. The authors are local historians, some with particular military interest but all with great knowledge and no little skill in researching on writing on the area in which they live. They have produced a fine collection of work, brought together and edited (and in some cases written) by Chris Holland. He is a former chairman of the local Heart of England Branch of the Western Front Association and already well known for a good book on the 29th Division’s memorial near Stretton-on-Dunsmore.

The essays cover a wide range of aspects of local history, from recruitment, to local billeting of troops, to medical care in the area, war effects on education, food supply and local industry, the “Spanish Flu” and the celebration of the Armistice. They are all deeply researched and objective, drawing upon a wide range of contemporary sources including local newspapers and parish magazines. The essays paint a fascinating and complex picture, for the geographic area represented a broad mix of the heavy industry and city life of Coventry, to the rural villages of South Warwickshire and the coalfield to the north. There are some good illustrations, the facts are referenced and there is a valuable index in both volumes.

Published and printed locally, these books do not appear to be available via Amazon so you may need to hunt around for copies. Chris Holland may be able to advise: take the spaces out of address poors_plot @ tiscali.co.uk

Warwick in the Great War
a volume of the “Your towns & cities in the Great War” series from Pen & Sword Military, 2017
by Graham Sutherland
ISBN 978 1 47386 053 7
Paperback. 1189pp. Illustrated. Biblography. Indexed.
Cover price £12.99.

I have lived in the Warwick area for some 30 years and have been fairly active in Great War history for longer. For a while I was chairman of the local Heart of England Branch of the Western Front Association – but sorry to say I had never heard before of author Graham Sutherland, who was Warwick’s town crier for 28 years and is a badged local tourist guide. Perhaps I live in a military history bubble!

Pen  & Sword’s “Your towns & cities in the Great War” series seems to me to be of rather uneven quality. I have seen a number of the titles and have previous reviewed a few. Each volume focuses on a particular geographic region to tell its Great War story. The Warwick volume is very much concentrated onto the town, with only passing references to, for example, nearby Leamington Spa. Warwick was in 1914 a place of considerable military importance, not least as the depot base of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the Warwickshire Yeomanry. There are museums to both in the town today – and indeed there is to the Queen’s Own Hussars.

The book is written in a lighter way than the essays in Holland’s “Coventry and Warwickshire 1914-191”: it is perhaps more accessible to the general reader and provides a good background to the changes and experiences of the town during the conflict. Inevitably, the subject matter is not dissimilar: recruitment, refugees, food supply, medical, local transport, effects on education and industry. Some of the military details are not entirely accurate but I suspect that will be of less importance to the readership that this series in likely to attract. I found it a little lightweight in style for my own taste, certainly in comparison to the essays in Holland’s volumes, but as an introduction to the subject I am sure many readers will enjoy it.

There are some very good and interesting photographs and illustrations. One that caught my eye had nothing to do with the war and was produced after 1918: it is an advertisement for the large George Nelson Dale company and its Emscote Works, which lay between Warwick and Leamington. Many of the buildings of this once impressive gelatine factory still exist – and I always wondered what they had been. The advert has a splendid illustration. Just shows how little I know of the area I now call home!

Buy it