Starter’s reading list: Third Ypres 1917 (Passchendaele)

The Third Battle of Ypres in 1918, often known as “Passchendaele”, is one of the most researched and written-about of all of the battles in which the British Army participated in the Great War. So where should someone new to this subject begin? This page presents my own view of a good reading list to get you going.

Lyn Macdonald: They called it Passchendaele

“Proper historians” tend to be a little dismissive of Lyn Macdonald’s works, but I cut my own historical teeth on her “They called it Passchendaele” and “Somme”, and I still occasionally dip into them even now, some 30+ years later. “Passchendaele” was first published in 1978 and the author based it largely upon interviews with the many veterans who were still alive at that time. Her writing is lively and engaging; not always terribly objective and not always completely accurate in terms of the history, but a great read. I guarantee that if you have never read anything else about this battle, you will want to read more after absorbing this one. It appears that it has been republished for the centenary with a slightly different title.

Nick Lloyd: Passchendaele: a new history

Published in 2017, this book leapt straight into my starter’s list due to its excellent writing, great research and explanation of the battle at all levels. As good a single volume on this battle that you can find.

Ex-Private X: War is war

A gripping, if somewhat cynical, memoir written by Alfred Burrage of the 1/28th Londons (the Artists Rifles). It centres on this battle.

Huntly Gordon:the unreturning army

A memoir from a junior artillery officer and not only of Passchendaele but of the German offensive of spring 1918. It is deservedly a highly rated classic. One of the “if you only ever read one memoir … read this” type.

Edmund Blunden: undertones of war

Another classic memoir by a junior officer, this time of the infantry. It includes a graphic account of his time during the Third Ypres offensive.

Jack Sheldon: The German Army at Passchendaele

And finally, a necessary, welcome and excellent corrective to many of the British studies that largely forget to mention that the Germans took part. Jack Sheldon analyses the German strategy, command and performance and brings proper balance to our understanding of the battle.


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