Review of “Following in the footsteps of heroes”

Following in the footsteps of heroes: a WW1 guidebook to Ypres and the Somme
by Tom Strickland
published by Sabrestorm, 2020
paperback ISBN 978 1 781 220184
157 pages plus index, illustrated, GPS location references
cover price £12.99
reviewed by Chris Baker

I received this book out of the blue a few days ago and at first glance thought it was self-published. It bears all the hallmarks that are typical of such work. During the centenary years I received a fair flow of such things and, with a few notable exceptions, most soon made their way to an Oxfam. My eyebrow was therefore slightly raised when I found that my first impression was false and that “Following in the footsteps of heroes” is produced by the independent Sabrestorm Publishing of Devizes. That does at least bring the benefit of sales and distribution and my copy had been sent by the larger Casemate Publishing.

There are many excellent guide books to travelling the sites of the war of France and Flanders, and a good deal of useful stuff online, too. So why another one? The author is a teacher who also acts as a battlefield guide and it soon becomes clear when reading that the book presents the sort of three-day trip undertaken by many a school party. From  Essex Farm Cemetery near Ypres, down to the visitor centre at the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme, “Following in the footsteps of heroes” presents a realistic itinerary with just enough historical background to explain events and the significance of each site. The history in terms of the when and why the battles unfolded the way they did is however at a very summarised level and I would recommend to any would-be guide that they gain a deeper understanding of it before they go. For instance: there is very little explanation of what happened at Ypres after 1917. The book presents selected “highlight” cemeteries, memorials and museums in concentrating on the two key battlefields; there are no lengthy walks. It does not provide details of how to get from one site to another but does provide GPS references to each. The language used is straightforward and simple, as are the illustrations. There is also some introductory material on uniform, weapons, equipment, the layout of cemeteries and the timeline of the war.

For any teacher considering leading a trip without the support of an experienced guide, or for the first-time independent tourist, the book provides a handy basis for the tour.

UPDATE as of 26 March 2020: you have plenty of time to plan …

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