Review of “Allies are a tiresome lot”

Allies are a tiresome lot: the British Army in Italy in the First World War
by John Dillon
Published by Helion & Company in 2015
Hardback ISBN 978 1 910777 32 9
209 pages plus bibliography and index
Illustrated with 15 photographs and 4 maps
My thanks to Helion & Company for sending me a copy.

The campaign in Italy has long been an interest of mine. It stems from my study of the 1st South Staffordshires many years ago, which took me into the Asiago and Piave fronts of which I had previously known nothing at all. It also led to my discovery that one of my grandfathers-in-law was there for a short while with the 5th Division. Italy is not a campaign blessed with coverage in histories and memoirs, although there have been a few works to emerge in the last couple of decades, now joined by “Allies are a tiresome lot”. For today’s researchers it remains a tricky campaign to study in terms of primary source material, for the related war diaries have not yet been digitised and remain buried away at the National Archives. To help fill the gap, good studies of the campaign are most valuable. This book is published by Helion in its “Wolverhampton Military Studies” series in association with Wolverhampton University, although it is based on the author’s PhD thesis which he produced as a mature student at Reading University. As with all Helion’s output it is a very good quality artefact on glossy paper, well laid out and with a good selection of maps and photographs.

I found this to be an interesting book and a little different to what I expected on first picking it up. Well researched and with sources quoted as we would expect of an academic study, it leans away somewhat from the military operations to cover what it was like to be engaged in the campaign. It was, after all, something of a sideshow in which the British army was only reluctantly committed; fought in difficult terrain; alongside an ally whose full commitment was not always evident to the men on the ground; and rather “out of sight, out of mind”. Conversely it was rather exotic, taking place in the snow and mountains of the Asiago and on the somewhat picturesque plains of north of Venice, and with the chance of a billet or leave in Vicenza, Padua, Treviso. It also proved to be, in general, nowhere near as hazardous as the Western Front.

The weighting of the book can be judged from the fact that approximately half is made up of chapters titled, “Working with the Italians”, “The Medical Services in the Italian Expeditionary Force”, “Maintaining morale” and”Crime and punishment”. This brings a different dimension to the campaign as covered in other works, such as J. and Eileen Wilk’s 1998 “The British Army in Italy 1917- 1918”, which is more centred on the battles and engagements. As such, it is certainly a valuable work for anyone interested in the campaign or one of those units that fought in it.

Good stuff and definitely worth reading.

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The campaign in Italy