Review of “Battle Lines: the battles of French Flanders”

Battle lines: the battles of French Flanders
The Western Front by car, by bike and on foot
By Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland
Published by Pen & Sword Military, 2015
ISBN 978 1 47382 403 4
Paperback, 232pp including index, illustrated

From the pens and bicycle saddles of two of Pen & Sword’s most prolific authors, “The battles of French Flanders” is the latest in their “Battle Lines series” of battlefield guide books. This one is ambitious in geographic and historical scope, for it covers the area from Armentieres down to Loos-en-Gohelle, which saw a great deal of fighting in each of the years of the war. The book is subtitled with Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, Loos and Fromelles, each of which gave their name to battles in 1915-16. The area was also where the ill-named “race to the sea” ended in 1914 and where both sides entrenched as they found no way to outflank their enemy; where the short but bitter fighting just before the truce of Christmas 1914 took place; and where there was fighting on the large scale in the spring and autumn of 1918. It is one of the most significant areas as far as the British Expeditionary Force is concerned, yet commands far less attention than Ypres of the Somme. “The battles of French Flanders” is a good corrective. Australian readers will also find it useful for the tour of the Fromelles and Pheasant Wood region in which their 5th Division fought its first and bloody action in July 1916.

Following the style of the previous “Battles Lines” work, Cooksey and Murland take us through a number of guided tours of the area – twelve in all – and slant them towards walking, cycling or car touring. Each tour is described in a narrative, picking out key spots and relating them to the historical events. The memorials, cemeteries and remains (for in this area there are many concrete blockhouses) are highlighted. There are good clear maps and, for those whose battlefield touring is done in an easy chair, plenty of photographs. It makes for a good read, and an invaluable guide when you are on the ground. There is also some good general advice about travel in the area and some recommendations for accommodation. Several titles in Pen & Sword’s “Battleground Europe” series describe places within the area covered by “The battles of French Flanders”: they tend to be more detailed and concentrated, and for anyone interested in a specific place or action are an excellent companion to this book.

A great addition to the battlefield tourist’s library.