A visitors guide: the Battles of Arras South: Bullecourt, Monchy-le-Preux, Wancourt and the valley of the Scarpe
by Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland
published by Pen & Sword Military in 2019
paperback ISBN 978 1 52674 239 1
131 pages plus reading list and index. Illustrated.
Reviewed by Chris Baker
Copy kindly provided by the publisher.
A confession before I begin. I know/knew both authors, for we all attended the Heart of England (Warwick) Branch of the Western Front Association. Many visitors to the Long, Long Trail weil recognise the name of the late Jon Cooksey, a prolific published historian and for many years the editor of the WFA’s “Stand To!” journal. Jerry is perhaps now better known for his excellent series of “Battleground Europe” books covering the fighting in France in 1940. So: two good and experienced authors and historians.
This is the seventh and presumably last in a series of guidebooks by Cooksey and Murland. I have always found them to be a slight curiosity, in that they bear similarities in style and content to the “Battleground Europe” series produced by the same publisher but have not been produced under that imprint. I do not know whether this volume was ever intended to be something more than this fairly slim volume, but there is no doubt that the too-soon death of John Cooksey has robbed us of work that he would undoubtedly have gone on to create.
Arras could, up to perhaps just ten years ago, have been said to be a neglected battlefield. This is no longer the case, with several histories and a number of battlefield guide books having been published. In the vanguard of these I would place Paul Reed’s “Walking Arras” and Jim Smithson and Tim Wright’s “Arras 1914-1918: a comprehensive guide to the battlefield: part 1 Arras South” – and of course the title gives away the fact that Smithson and Wright’s book covers the same geographical area as the book under review. The earlier “Battleground Europe” volumes on Monchy-le-Preux by the late Colin Fox and Bullecourt by Graham Keech are also situated in the area.
“The Battles of Arras South” comprises eight tours of the area, after a rather cursory initial examination of the overall historical context of the war in Artois and some general advice for travellers. The tours are mainly relatively short (between 1 and 5.4 miles in length and suitable for walking or cycling) with the last being a car or cycle tour of 27 miles. The description of each tour includes route descriptions and a good and clear map with symbols highlighting the points to be visited en route. I do not think any reader would have too much trouble folowing the route, although I do wonder whether a relativly small paper back would stand up to too much handling as the walker or cyclist progresses: perhaps the wise would take a photocopy or photographs of the pages concerned, or consider a Kindle/eBook version.
The routes cover the following tours. At each stop there is a description of the history of the spot, often highlighting individual stories of officers and men. It provides enough content for a taster while the reader is following the tour but many will want to follow it up with greater study – or even go into it with some pre-existing knowledge. In some ways, the latter is probably needed to some extent, for the reader is thrown straight into specific actions and trenches that may be baffling to the unitiated. My advice would be to read at least one of the histories of the battles of Arras in 1917 before trying the tours, if the best is to be gained from the exerience.
- Feuchy Redoubt (recommended for walking only)
- Battery Valley and Observation Ridge
- Roeux (things move fast: the supermarket described and used for car parking on this tour is no longer in operation)
- Telegraph Hill and The Harp
- Southern Car Tour
Overall, a good and interesting piece of work that will, I am sure, be valuable for anyone wishing to study and see the Arras battlefield. Perhaps, Covid-19 permitted, we will be able to do so soon!