Review of “Victoria Crosses on the Western Front”

Victoria Crosses on the Western Front
by Paul Oldfield
published by Pen & Sword Military
reviewed by Chris Baker

August 1914 ~ April 1915: Mons to Hill 60
Published 2014
Hardback ISBN 978 1 78303 043 9
312 pages plus sources, useful information, index. Illustrated.

Somme 1916
Published 2016
Hardback ISBN 978 1 47382 712 7
488 pages plus sources, useful information, index. Illustrated.

Two examples of a larger series by the same author.

In the 1990s an excellent series of biographical studies of each man awarded the Victoria Cross was produced by Sutton Publishing, mainly written by Gerald Gliddon but also by others. They provided a good account of the action for which the award was made and revealed much of the man’s background, his post-war life and death if he had survived it, and the whereabouts of his medal. I still have them on my bookshelf and refer to them when need arises. A quick check on booksellers websites reveal that they are still easily available.

One might be forgiven for thinking that all that could be said about a VC winner already has been said. Yet with the continued emergence, and often digitisation, of records fresh to the public eye there is more that has emerged since the 90s and we can hope that there is more still yet to emerge. It is easy to forget that service records, burial records, unit war diaries, censuses, local newspapers and the like have really only come out of the depths of the archives in the intervening years.

Paul Oldfield, already well known as a military historian and in particular as co-author of the “Sheffield City Battalion”, has plundered the existing and newly emerging information to produce a valuable update to such previously produced works. He adopts a slightly different approach, too: each book commences with a chronological history of events, providing good battle context and detail of the actions for which the various VC were awarded and then goes on in a second section to provide the biographical detail of each man. The books are well illustrated with maps and photographs, are well written and easily read, and thoroughly indexed. At 300 plus pages (over 500 in the case of the Somme volume) they are fairly hefty to handle so make sure your shelf is reinforced if you plan to acquire them all!