Review of “The 48th (South Midland) Division 1908-1919”

The 48th (South Midland) Division 1908-1919
by K. W. Mitchinson
published by Helion & Company, 2017
ISBN 978 1 911512 54 7
Hardback 265 pages including appendices,plus bibliography and index.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Bill Mitchison’s previous books on the Territorial Force and had little doubt that this would also prove to be a well researched and highly readable work. I was not disappointed. In this instance I had a special, personal reason for interest in that my grandfather served in this division’s artillery until he was discharged on medical grounds after being wounded.

The South Midland Division is a rather unsung formation. It has no previously published history, although one of its brigades and a few of its infantry battalions have them. There is no genuinely clear reason for this omission from the historiography of the war. Perhaps it is because the division was a solid workhorse, without a major defeat, calamity or notable victory to which it can put its name. In 1914 it was highly regarded, at least by some, and was only the division of the territorial Force to be sent overseas. It later became the only such formation to go to the Italian theatre of war. As such, Mitchinson’s new history is an important work.

The book begins in the years before the Great War, when the Territorial Force often struggled against War Office and regular army disdain to obtain its funding, facilities, equipment and the small cadres of regular officers and troops that ran it. Given the shortcomings in training and equipment, it is something of a miracle that its best formations were able to mobilise quickly and achieve a standard where they were considered ready to be sent to war.

Much of the book is concerned with the division’s time overseas, with good coverage of the early months of learning the art of trench warfare at Ploegsteert and Hebuterne; of the division’s part in the Battle of the Somme; the Third Battle of Ypres; and the lesser known campaign in Italy, in which troops of the division were the first to advance and set foot in what up to 1914 had been enemy sovereign territory of the Central Powers in Europe.

The narrative is drawn mainly from operational records (war diaries and the like) and remains at quite a high level: there are few references to individuals of the lower ranks, for example. It is well written and makes for a good read, not least as it avoids the repetition of tedious trench-holding days and well-worn descriptions of conditions. As a history of the division I found it very valuable and I am sure that I will be referring to it with great frequency. There are a few but good, simple and clear maps, and a number of photographs of the relevant battlefields today.

This will obviously be of value to anyone interested in this division, but also to readers interested in the Great War as it affected Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

Mitchinson’s previously published works appear to be rather scarce and they command high prices. Assuming this goes the same way, it might be a good idea to buy it while the price is reasonable!

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48th (South Midland) Division