Most helpful critical review
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Good but could have been better
on 2 January 2015
It’s curious in some ways that Amazon should pick up Mike Young’s review called ‘A Different Angle’, and have it as one of what they consider to be the more favourable reviews, whereas I would place it among the more unfavourable ones since he refers to some errors of fact [which he considers minor]. Like him I spotted errors... but he hasn’t got the half of it; and I feel that Peter Doyle, clearly a well-respected authority in this field, has been badly let down by his editors/proof readers. The issue is not exactly whether mistakes are minor or major, but just how many of them there are. At what point do you simply start to say that you can’t trust the authority of this writer to make certain claims, when there are so many mistakes in the detail?
I’ll list a few of them…
On p18 he refers to French victory in the Franco Prussian war… but gets it right with the French defeat, on p107.
On p57 and p112 he refers to the first gas attacks in Ypres in May 1915, yet gets it right on p179 when he says it started on 22 April 1915.
On p224 is the incredible claim that male tanks had 6” guns [that’s the size of the main armament on HMS Belfast!] yet he gets it right on the next page referring to 6-pounder guns.
On p205 he refers to the Lochnagar crater being caused by 60,000 tons of Ammonal when in fact it was 60,000 lbs weight.
All references to Jackie Fisher omit his full title; which was Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher.
On p258 he refers to details of the Glade of the Armistice and accurately says that the original wagon lit used by Foch was placed there. This is true in that it was placed there at that time… but it would be a good qualification to make to add that the wagon lit that is presently there is not the original one... and hasn’t been since the Second World War. The original wagon lit was taken back to Berlin following Germany victory over France in 1940, and then was destroyed by allied bombing during the war.
All of these are factual errors and need to be corrected; the book is a lesser thing because of mistakes.
In my second area of difference of view; I’ll start by saying that the author is absolutely entitled to his opinion over the selection of the 100 objects, and he has expressed his own reservations on p10 about the difficulty of getting a coherent story; and he says he ‘had to cover the many fronts, nations and phases of the war….’ Now it is this sense of having to cover that worries me because here and there it looks like his selection is not governed any quirky individual thinking or the inclusion of iconic war time mementoes; but instead looks like a more politically correct approach of making sure that every side gets a look in. What this has led to, I think, is a lack of balance and an over-emphasis on certain areas, to the exclusion of others. I’ll give some examples. He is limited to only be able to choose 100 objects.. yet 8 of them are examples of military head wear! OK, we get the drift... did every fighting nation’s helmet need to be included? Having included the German helmet [two examples] did he think Austrians would be upset if theirs wasn’t also included? Then a further 8 objects are parts of uniform or military insignia. This included both the Canadian and the Australian shoulder badges as separate objects.. once again looking like a ‘fair dos, I’d better mention them both so no one gets offended’ approach. The consequence of this relative duplication of certain basic objects is that he runs out of space to refer to other very significant ones. This area of ‘significant omissions’ is obviously a question of opinion; but equally I’m questioning the ‘coherence’ that the author claims for his story, when so many key angles are missed out. I don’t think I would be alone in commenting that Women get a poor deal among his 100 objects. He could have doubled the references to the role and importance of women by replacing the photo of Albert Balls’ grave with a photo of Edith Cavell’s.
There is also a cultural deficit; with no reference to War art. Surely something of the work of Nash, Singer Sergeant or Nevinson, or the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’, or the war poets or authors could have replaced one of the lesser helmets in his selected 100?
There is also no reference to any object that reflected the spiritual/mental side of a soldier’s existence. If the author had included a packet of Woodbines as one of his objects, that would have let him go on to Woodbine Willie and padres, YMCA huts, Toc H/Poperinghe, deserters/firing squads and who knows what else linked to this general theme.
These are the only points I’ll make on the author’s selection because my views could rest on thin grounds of complaint; I’m well aware that his standard response would be ‘that If I didn’t like his selection, then go away and write your own book so you get the 100 objects you want.’