The Royal Marines on the Western Front
by Daniel J. McLean
Published by Pen & Sword Military 2021
Hardback ISBN 978 1 52676 386 0
132 pages plus appendix (list of honours and awards), bibliography, endnotes and index
Reviewed by Chris Baker
With thanks to Pen & Sword for sending me a copy to see.
For some years I have owned a copy of “Britain’s sea soldiers: a record of the Royal Marines during the war 1914-1919“, compiled by General Sir H. E. Blumberg and first published in 1927 (it was republished by Naval & Mlitary Press in 2006). It is a weighty volume at 473 pages and as near a definitive history as you can get, certainly one based on documents that were accessible in the 1920s.
So how does “The Royal Marines on the Western Front” stack up, given that sources such as the men’s service rcords are all now readily available? It is perhaps best viewed as a summary, or an introduction, to the history, for at 132 pages it is clearly a much smaller work than Blumberg’s even when taking into account its focus onto a single theatre of war. Of this, a whole chapter is dedicated to Louis Stokes, a junior marine officer and a former boy of Rugby School whose letters form a valuable archive and whose story was covered in some depth in “A Dear and Noble Boy: The Life and Letters of Louis Stokes, 1897-1916” which was also published by Pen & Sword back in 1994.
As an introduction it has much to commend it, and genealogists who have discovered a marine in their family tree will find it useful in providing a taster to the war as experienced by their ancestor. The book covers the marines’ role in the principal battles of the war in France and Flanders, with some justifiable weight being given to Antwerp in 1914, Ancre in 1916 and Zeebrugge in 1918. There is a good if brief chapter on the Royal Marine Artillery and another covering the lesser known departments of the RM Labour Corps, Motor Transport, and Cyclist Company. For the historian wanting a deeper study of any particular element of the Royal Marines or their part in a certain action, I would refer them at first to Blumberg, and some of the marine units are not short of coverage in memoirs.
The book concludes with a chapter of biographical material on selected notable senior officers and winners of the Victoria Cross.
But if you must …