This is an interesting book. I was unsure as to the exact scope of the work from the title when it popped through the letterbox, but I’ll do my best to put it into concept.
Basically this book is a series of edited short essays, mostly written by academics and researchers in the WW1 area. It’s from Pen and Sword, and edited by Eric Liddle. As a War Bore, this therefore appealed from the off: but how does it pan out? One for the ‘Spotter’, or one for the more generalist reader?
There are the usual scholarly articles, for example, one deals with the intricacies of German leadership styles in the context of Schwerpunkt. There is an article about how the battle of Jutland widened into the life or death struggle of Great Britain and Germany trying to starve each other to death using Blockade versus Guerre de Cours. There is an article about British Artillery usage and the inadequacies of guns and ammunition up to the ‘Shells Crisis’ of 1915.
But then the context does indeed widen. There are articles about Conscientious Objectors and the role played by the Women who stayed at home, in a lot of cases widowed and treated poorly by the government when they had the temerity to ask for a pension. There are even articles about Facial reconstruction surgery and Trench Art. All these pieces are written by experts in the field and in the case of some of the family histories, are related to the personnel in the articles themselves.
And then, right in the middle, a real gem of an article that made my day as a Royal Naval Division enthusiast. It concerns a young man called Arthur Pollard, born in South London, and who had been, until the outbreak of war, an Insurance Clerk.
Pollard was serving with the Honourable Artillery Company during April 1917. At that time, 1/HAC was in the ORBAT of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.
Pollard had joined as a ranker and worked his way up, displaying a talent for the role of ‘Bomber’, whose job it was to assault trench systems using large bags of grenades. Commanding a bombing platoon, unusually as a Corporal, Pollard had acquired a reputation for his highly aggressive attacks (his post WW1 autobiography was to be titled ‘Fire-eater’, and became one of over 60 books he wrote as a professional author).
Later commissioned, Pollard had accrued a DSM and MC with Bar by the time of the action at Gavrelle (part of the Arras offensive of April 1917 which pedants will assure you is more technically known as the 2nd Battle of the Scarpe), where he gained the highest award for valour on 29th April 1917.
On that day, at Gavrelle, Pollard, along with another HAC Officer Leonard Haine, captured a trench system by bombing their way along it i.e. a perpendicular assault.
The previous day, 1/RM had frontally assaulted the same position and been slaughtered. The Royal Marines losses killed, captured and wounded of 28th April 1917 remain the highest in the Corp’s history. In effect, therefore, with his group of 12 men, Pollard had taken a position that an entire battalion of Royal Marines could not.
Haine and Pollard were the HACs two VC winners of WW1 and Pollard the highest decorated HAC soldier of that conflict.
This book could quite rightly, therefore, be said to be a social history of WW1 and it this wider approach to WW1 that is appealing. Some of the articles are heavy going, but the joy is that you can leave them and go find something lighter.
That’s 4 stars therefore from Trainer