Review of “From the Western Front to Salonika”

From the Western Front to Salonika: a French soldier writes home
The letters of Pierre Suberviolle
by Catherine Labaume-Howard
Published by Helion & Company, 2016
ISBN 978 1911096 28 3
Paperback, 182 pages including appendices, glossy, illustrated, no index
Cover price is not indicated.

There is still relatively little published in the English language concerning the French Armies in the Great War, and “From the Western Front to Salonika” is an unusual and welcome addition. It is a compilation of some 150 letters written by Pierre Suberviolle, who came from Montauban near Toulouse. The book is edited by his grand-daughter, who has also added some useful historical context.

Suberviolle had an unusual war, influenced by the fact that when he joined the army at the age of 17 he could already drive a motor vehicle. He enlisted as a volunteer on 7 August 1914 and spent the period up to March 1916 with a transport unit on the Western Front, some of which was in the Ypres and Yser sectors. Suberviolle was then sent out to Salonika to join the French Armée d’Orient. For British readers it will be of particular interest that for some time he was in the malarial Struma valley, where so many men of the British Salonika Force fought the mosquito as well as the enemy. After eighteen months he was returned to France, where he trained as a driver of the new Renault light tanks. On 14 October 1918, he suffered a severe wound while in tank action at Hooglede, not far from Passchendaele, during the final advance in Flanders. The book includes an image of a congratulatory communique, addressed to him and signed by British Second Army Commander Herbert Plumer.

With censorship being in force, the letters rarely describe military affairs in detail although some locations, individuals and actions are mentioned. For the most part we read of the details of life: of happy times, of curiosity and interest at new places, of fatigue and worry. We learn much of life as it was at home for his family, and are touched by the death of his father. Suberviolle maintains throughout a very optimistic and friendly, loving tone and comes across as a very pleasant, articulate, thoughtful young man.

The book includes a large number of photographs, many taken by Suberviolle himself and never before published. They are all of considerable interest, but none more so than those taken during his time in Salonika and with the tanks.

A very good and worthwhile read.