Winston Groom's latest historical work 'A Storm in Flanders', offers the reader an interesting and satisfying overview of the fighting around the Ypres Salient between 1914 and 1918. The book is 276 pages in length of which over 260 is text. This account cannot be considered comprehensive in its study of the Ypres Salient in the Great War, for that you will need to look elsewhere. However what Mr Groom does offer is a compelling look at the numerous battles fought around the Ypres Salient, including one of the most dreadful battles of World War One, Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.
The author has attempted to give you, the reader, an insight into the lives of the soldier huddled in his wet trench under constant artillery fire, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives in daily 'wastage', even during quiet periods. The story is told mainly from the British point of view, with numerous first-hand accounts offered throughout the book. The narrative is fast paced and you never get tired or bored with the story. I have read many books on the Great War and I never cease to wonder why these brave men endured what they did and for so long.
The author provides the reader with details about the introduction of new weapons of destruction unleashed for the first time during the Great War. Stories of how poisons gas was utilized by the Germans and then the Allies, followed by accounts of the victims and witnesses to the effects of gas are truly horrendous. Then follows the introduction massive underground mines and the flame-thrower to combat the trench systems and machine gun posts of the enemy. The author doesn't spare you the details of what happened to men during the fighting in the trenches and the terrible affects of an artillery bombardment or a underground mine exploding under a trench packed with soldiers.
The beauty of this book is that it really gives you an idea what these poor men, from both sides of the conflict, had to live through. The oft told story about Lieutenant General Kiggell viewing the battlefield after Passchendaele fell, breaking down into tears, crying out "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that." still saddens me, regardless of how many times I read it.
If nothing else this, book will offer the first time reader of the fighting around Ypres a good understanding of the terrible battles fought there and will entice many to follow up with further reading. As such I can recommend many good titles to follow through on with for those who may be interested:
'In Flanders Fields' by Leon Wolff
'They Called it Passchendaele' by Lyn MacDonald
'Passchendaele: The Untold Story' by Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson
'Passchendaele: the Sacrificial Ground' by Nigel Steel & Peter Hart
'Passchendaele: The Story Behind the Tragic Victory of 1917' by Philip Warner
Of these Lyn MacDonald's account is one of the more interesting in that she utilises many accounts of the soldiers who fought during that terrible battle. Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson's account also offers much new information and has received much acclaim of late.
Any person who reads this book will not fail to come away impressed with the stolid courage of the officers and men involved in this terrible carnage and if that's the least this book does then that is more than enough as far as I am concerned.