Six short reviews

There has been such a deluge of new Great War related work published recently that I simply do not have the time to write a full-scale review of all that I have been sent. My apologies to the publishers and authors. I hope these short reviews are helpful to would-be buyers.

In the shadow of Bois Hugo: the 8th Lincolns at the Battle of Loos
by Nigel Atter
published by Helion & Company
Paperback, 112 pages including appendices, bibliography, index.

Not long before this book was published, I heard the author give an excellent talk on the subject. On learning that his book was soon to be out, I must admit I did  wonder how it would stretch out if it was to be a full-size book. When the finished product arrived, it all made sense: long enough to not only give detail of the events described, Nigel Atter has also provided good context without feeling the need to explain the whole war or give a biography of every man present. It even includes a good foreword by Professor Peter Simkins. “In the shadow of Bois Hugo” tells the story of a new Kitchener battalion of the 21st Division and its appalling first experience, when it was rushed in as a reserve for the Battle of Loos in September 1915. The reserves’ efforts are all too often dismissed and indeed it was a careless remark by a noted academic that set this author on the track to finding out what really happened. He has produced a thorough and rather eye-opening account of the battalion’s experience. Great stuff.

 

Unfailing gallantry: 8th (Regular) Division in the Great War 1914-1919
by Alun Thomas
published by Helion & Company
Hardback, 305 pages including appendices, bibliography, index.

This is another title from the Wolverhampton Military Studies series and is typical of the work in that series in that it is derived from a doctoral study. “Unfailing gallantry” has all the hallmarks of such work, being thoroughly footnoted and referenced to the sources used. It studies the rather unsung 8th Division, a formation of the British regular army which was mainly built from units that had been on distant overseas garrison duty when the war began. The division served on the Western Front from late 1914 onwards, and a good history by Boraston and Bax was published after the war. Alun Thomas’s book does not set out to be an updated version of a complete history, but studies the development of the division as a fighting formation. Many people will be most aware of the division due to its calamitous first day of the Battle of the Somme, when it attacked in the area of Ovillers-la-Boisselle. That, and subsequent events on the Somme, proved to be a turning point in the division’s story. “Unfailing gallantry” explores how it adapted to new leadership, methods and technologies to play a vital part in the “all arms” warfare of 1918. A good and valuable addition to your library.

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Esmond: the lost idol 1895-1917

by Johnnie Astor and Alexandra Campbell
published by Helion & Company
Hardback, 235 pages including appendices; endnotes, bibliography, index.

The short and ultimately tragic story of a young man. Born into a world of almost unimaginable wealth, privilege and connection, Esmond Elliot was the son of Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto, Governor-General of Canada (1898-1904) and Viceroy of India (1905-10). It will surprise no-one that Esmond attended Eton School and went on to Cambridge University, and that through friends and family he enjoyed personal connections with many of the “great and good” of his times. We can only speculate as to the high positions he would have reached, had he not died of wounds while serving as a regimental officer of the 2nd Scots Guards on 6 August 1917.

This biography draws on many letters, diaries, family papers and photographs; not least those of Esmond’s mother, Mary. The details they provide help “Esmond: the lost idol” to develop from what is a fairly straightforward story into a book that provides insight into the thoughts and emotions of the soldier and his family and close friends, as he goes to war; survives several actions and the conditions of trench warfare; leads a raid across the Ypres canal just before the Third Battle of Ypres begins; and ultimately loses his life in a German counter-attack. A good, absorbing read.

Esmond Elliot is buried in Mendinghem Military Cemetery. CWGC information


Bullets, bombs and poison gas: supplying the troops on the Western Front 1914-1918

by David Rogers
published by Helion & Company
Paperback, 297 pages including appendices; bibliography, index.

I was interested to see that the author was trained in supply chain management and lean production back in the 1990s, not least because I spent 20 years advising major corporations in this aspect of their operations. The way that the military supply chain worked in the Great War is a subject of considerable interest to me and I looked forward to reading the book. What a let-down. I am afraid that I found it rather incoherent. The supply chain is not really covered at all: we learn next to nothing of how munitions were moved from factory to front line, or how the supply was managed. There is much about the munitions themselves, with explanation of the background of the Ministry of Munitions, and a plethora of tables of data from various sources but presented without context or identifiable theme. Taken individually the tables can be very interesting, but as a collective it just doesn’t add up. The book of the army’s supply chain remains to be written.

A Kitchener man’s bit: an account of the Great War 1914-18
by Gerald Dennis
Re-published by Helion & Company

I have been fortunate to own a copy of the original publication of this memoir for many years, and it is good to think that through re-publication that it might reach a new and larger readership. Gerald Dennis enlisted  in November 1915, voluntarily joining the 21st (Service) Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Yeomen Rifles). His well written and engaging biography takes us all through the rest of his service in France, Italy and then France again. His battalion, part of 41st Division, first sees a major action on the Somme in 1916, but before that spends time in the “nursery” of the trenches at Ploegsteert Wood. I find Dennis’s description of that period to be particularly good and not a little moving, as the Yeoman Rifles suffer their first casualties. “A Kitchener man’s bit” is right up there with the best of soldier’s memoirs and I recommend it to all.

The World Remade: America in World War I
by G. J. Meyer
published by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House
Hardback, 576 pages plus sources, notes and index.

A book that examines the conduct and immediate aftermath of the Great War through American eyes, with a strong focus onto President Woodrow Wilson, the White House and Congress during the period. The war was a turning point for the United States, in which it entered the world stage not only as a serious military player but became a financial power house as a result of supplying the Entente with goods and military material, while at the same time providing funding with which to pay the bill. It was also a turning point in the abandonment of the democratic principles of its Constitution and the adoption of aggressive centralised control of its people and punishment of anything remotely resembling protest. Meyer covers both the domestic and international aspects, and we are provided with a thorough examination of Wilson’s mindset and indeed his health, for both greatly affected his approach and events.  I found the author’s treatment of certain aspects of the British part in the war to be rather odd: he mis-attributes a quote to David Lloyd George, who is also called the English Prime Minister, for example. OK as a read but not a book from which I particularly learned much, sad to say.