Review of “The Somme 1916: touring the French sector”

The Somme: touring the French sector
by David O’Mara
published by Pen & Sword in the “Battleground” imprint (formerly “Battleground Europe”)
Paperback 240 pages including appendices, bibiography and index. Illustrated.
ISBN 978 147389 770 0
Cover price £14.99
Reviewed by Chris Baker

English language studies of the French sector during the Battles of the Somme in 1916 are few and far between, and useful guide books even more so. This is a very welcome addition to the “Battleground” series and goes a long way to filling the gap. Its author David O’Mara may be known to readers from his internet presence under the name of “Croonaert”. I understand that this is the first of a series of studies of the French sectors that he has been commissioned to write, and after reading “The Somme” I look forward to seeing the rest. One can only admire the hard work that goes into production of such a book, when the sources are in a second language.

The “Battleground” series will be familiar to many, for it has been around for many years and now runs to dozens of volumes. In recent times it has strengthened the balance between well-researched historical narrative and battlefield guide, and “The Somme” and others have become valuable works of reference. The format has been maintained, in that the book is only available in paperback and in a handy size such that it can be easily carried when touring the ground. Illustration is profuse and the book includes some 30 maps, all drawn from a variety of French sources and of great interest in themselves. My only observation is that the relatively small format of the book does sometimes make the smaller text on maps rather difficult to read.

The area covered in this work stretches from the junction with the British Expeditionary Force (the Maricourt – Maurepas area that will be known to most British students of the Somme), south across the river, down to Lihons and Chaulnes and across to Villers-Carbonnel, for example. The tour guide section of the book offers  three itineraries, broken into sections and covering pretty much whole sector. There are many sites to visit: inevitably the battlefield cemeteries and memorials, but also the sites of destroyed villages and some preserved trenches and dugouts. For the British Somme tourist, these sites are within a very short drive of “their” area and make for a fascinating addition to knowledge.

“The Somme: touring the French sector” also includes a useful background to the French Army and its fighting before the 1916 battle, along with orders of battle and technical explanation.

An excellent “Battleground” book that I can heartily recommend.

My own photograph of preserved trenches in the Bois de Wailleux, part of the French sector of the 1916 Somme battlefield.


An approximation of the geographic area covered by this book.

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The Battles of the Somme, 1916