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Forgotten Voices of the Great War: A New History of WWI in the Words of the Men and Women Who Were There  (Forgotten Voices/the Great War)
Forgotten Voices of the Great War: A New History of WWI in the Words of the Men and Women Who Were There (Forgotten Voices/the Great War)
by Max Arthur
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.85

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars highly overrated - Lynn Macdonald does this so much better., 12 Oct 2013
I am a Great War buff, occasional battlefield guide and have read widely on the Great War over many years. This book is possibly the most overrated book on the British experience of the Great War that has ever been written. The shortcomings of this book have been discussed on the Great War Forum over the years and many views expressed there would echo mine.

Firstly, the voices had been lovingly recorded and catalogued over many years (25-30) before the book was published, and this work had been carried out by the team of the Department of Sound Archives at the IWM. The team did a marvellous job of recording this oral history before it was too late. Having taken the trouble to go to the IWM and listen to some of the actual recordings by the veterans, and view some of the interview transcripts, I can testify to the labour of love this involved. The actual recordings are well worth listening to, and are incredibly moving.

If you are newbie to the Great War then this book is a starting point. There is no doubt that many of the quotes are moving. As another reviewer has stated, as a compendium of primary sources it may provide a few quotes for essays. In terms of value, that's about it.

So, why doesn't it do it for me? There are two main reasons:

1) Essentially, this book is a skilful cut and paste job, in which the quotes are woven into a continuous narrative. However, they are taken out of context. No attempt has been made to qualify them. To give but one example: the book uses several quotes from Cpl Clifford J Lane of 1/1 Hertfordshire Regt. These are invariably free of context. In one excerpt Lane describes his battalion's attack at the opening of Third Ypres on 31 July 1917. There is no attempt to cross-check with war diaries or other sources. Oral history does have its value, but it must always be verified with other sources wherever possible. If Arthur had checked the 1/1 Herts war diary he would have read that the battalion lost 20 officers and 459 other ranks killed wounded and missing - i.e. 100% of the officers and 75% of the other ranks who went over the top that morning. A footnote to this effect, or some contextual sentences before and after this quote, would really have brought Lane's story alive.

2) The book simply doesn't do justice to the power of the original recordings, and never could. Lane's recollections run to 10 tapes, and the transcript is over 100 pages long.

There are many, many better books that give more insight into the personal experience of the Great War. Frank Richards' Old Soldiers Never Die, Dunn's The War The Infantry Knew and Junger's Storm of Steel to name but three memoirs. Lynn Macdonald did the sort of thing that Max Arthur is trying to do, but so much better.

Newbies to the Great War would be better advised to steer clear of this and start with Lynn Macdonald's works and perhaps follow up with Middlebrook's First Day of the Somme and The Kaiser's Battle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2014 2:52 PM BST


England's Last Hope: The Territorial Force, 1908-14
England's Last Hope: The Territorial Force, 1908-14
by Dr K. W. Mitchinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 65.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Review for Mars & Clio - The Journal of the British Commission for Military History Spring 2009, 2 May 2013
The Territorial Force (TF) has received less attention from historians in recent years than the New Armies. England's Last Hope is an important and ground breaking book that will go some way towards redressing the balance. It should be as important in transforming our understanding of the TF as Peter Simkins' Kitchener's Army (1988) was for our understanding of the New Armies. Previous studies of the TF have covered the 1908-1914 period in barely a chapter,(1) so this full length treatment is critical in covering much new ground.

With England's Last Hope Dr. Bill Mitchinson adds to his important body of work on Britain's volunteer and reserve forces. This is the second volume in a projected trilogy of works on the subject. The first volume, Defending Albion - Britain's Home Army 1908-1919, was shortlisted for the 2005 Templar Medal and studied the schemes designed to confront an enemy invasion.(2) The projected and as yet unnamed third volume will look at the performance of the TF divisions in the First World War and the problems the Territorial Force Associations had in their dealings with the War Office. In addition Dr. Mitchinson has written an acclaimed study of the London Rifle Brigade: Gentlemen and Officers: The Impact and Experience of War on a Territorial Regiment (1995).

The main unit of study in England's Last Hope is the Territorial Force Association (TFA), 94 of which were set up in late 1907 and early 1908 following the passage of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907. Every county in England, Wales and Scotland had a TFA which was responsible for raising, administering, clothing, equipping and training those TF units within its borders. TFAs comprised a number of representatives typically drawn from retired senior officers, local politicians, local businessmen and the local landed gentry. The COs of the local TF units were also included.

Each TFA kept minutes of its meetings, as well as minutes of its various subcommittees such as recruiting and finance. From the counties listed in the sources and the index Dr Mitchinson appears to have studied the records of up to 50 TFAs, including two in Wales and six in Scotland. This is no mean achievement given that the records of the TFAs are not held centrally, but are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country in numerous Country Record Offices. The TFA records have been little used until now, with their dispersal making a comprehensive study difficult. However, these records form the most important class of source material used in the research for this book. The sample of TFA records used covers a representative selection of counties both urban/industrial and rural/agricultural. It is also representative in that it covers TFAs of all sizes from the largest (the County of London TFA which was responsible for the entire 2nd London Division TF as well as about one-third of the 1st London Division TF) down to tiny TFAs such as Carmarthen.

Dr Mitchinson covers a comprehensive range of subjects, from the setting up of the TF Associations in 1908, to recruiting, clothing, equipping and training the men and then the mobilization of the TF in 1914. Valuable sections discuss the all important infrastructure of the TF including drill halls - the most visible manifestation of the TF in today's townscapes (3) - and the financial aspects. Mitchinson shows how each of these aspects to running the TF could end up being handled very differently by TFAs which had very different requirements. For example he devotes nearly six pages to the subject of boots. Some TFAs paid their men an allowance for boots. Others bought boots from a supplier and sold them on to their men, sometimes at a subsidised rate. Some TFAs made a trade-off between price and quality, and others laid down a stock of boots in case of mobilisation. Even with the humble boot, a `one size fits all' policy was not appropriate. However, such locally developed policies could nevertheless be subjected to changing regulations and other problems `thrown at them by an often hostile and unsympathetic War Office'.

A topic that will perhaps prove of most interest to many readers is the support provided by many TFAs to the raising of the New Armies in late 1914 and 1915. The extent of this support has been largely unrecorded in previous studies, and includes support in clothing and equipping soldiers as the TFAs by 1914 had had a great deal of experience in placing contracts with civilian manufacturers. It reflects well on the patriotism and selflessness of the TFAs that they were prepared to support the War Office despite the lack of support for the TF from that direction before and during the Great War.

This book is the first time that many of these subjects have been described in detail, if ever, and many will repay deeper study. In addition, detailed local studies of the relationship between a TFA and its units are almost non-existent,(4) and this book sets out a framework that such studies would do well to follow.

People researching a specific TF unit would also be well advised to read this book and track down the appropriate minutes of the local TFA as this will give invaluable context. This is particularly true for the many hitherto neglected units of the TF such as those of the Royal Engineers, RAMC, ASC and the Royal Artillery. Hopefully England's Last Hope will encourage a move away from study of the middle class TF infantry battalions that has so far dominated unit-level research into the TF.

I have only two relatively minor quibbles with this book. First is the price which at an eye-watering 55 will deter the wider readership which it richly deserves. Only the most ardent TF enthusiast is likely to buy it, with most other readers opting to obtain it through inter-library loan.

The other slight cause for dissatisfaction is the photographs. There is a good selection of 32 photographs, many of which are previously unpublished. However, these have been printed onto the same type of paper as the text, and often at two to a page, which means that there has been some loss of contrast and definition. A higher grade of paper suitable for photos would have been preferable, as would full page reproduction for certain pictures that are crammed with detail.

Quibbles aside, this is an extremely important book which should be read by anyone with an interest in the British Army in the lead up to the Great War. I for one am eagerly awaiting the final volume of the trilogy.

Notes
-----
(1) See for example The Territorial Army 1906-1940, Peter Dennis, pub Boydell and Brewer, 1987, ISBN 0861932080 (Royal Historical Society Studies in History v.51)
(2) Defending Albion - Britain's Home Army 1908-1919, KW Mitchinson, pub Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, ISBN 978140393825
(3) See [...] for a county-by-county survey of surviving drill halls and a record of many of those that do not
(4) A rare exception which focuses on the first part of the war is Recruiting for the Territorial Force in Staffordshire, August 1914 - December 1915, Andrew Thornton, in the Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (November 2004)


Marjorie's War: Four Families in the Great War 1914-1918
Marjorie's War: Four Families in the Great War 1914-1918
by Charles Messenger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 19.60

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Professsional Review published in The Newsletter of The Brtish Commission For Military History No.34 July 2012, 21 Aug 2012
I have very much enjoyed this attractive book, especially the cast of characters, how it is put together and its presentation. The letters, diaries and photographs that form this work must be virtually unique in that they have survived from both sides, not just the letters to home. Because of this, we see the impact of the war on those left at home, particularly the women. They form an almost unbroken narrative of the whole war, telling the story of nine young men through the conduit of the Marjorie in the title. Marjorie Fair (nee Secretan) was the grandmother and mother respectively of the authors and she is the nucleus of the story that connects four families through her two wartime romances and their family friends.

This book will be easily accessible to Great War `novices' as well as the more informed reader because the authors have gone to a lot of trouble over explaining the chronology of the main events of the war, military hierarchy and abbreviations. It also includes family trees, but at the beginning gives only the dates of birth and helpfully, for me at least, the ages at the commencement of hostilities. This approach makes the reader want to read on even more by not giving the game away as to who survived and who didn't. The names of many other people crop up in the letters, especially from the front. Wherever possible, short biographies of whom these were and their fate is explained in detailed footnotes; as are events not necessarily concerning purely the Great War. The Jameson Raid is one such example.

Of course, these families were educated, middle class, articulate and well connected Edwardians and these are probably contributory factors as to why these particular documents have survived. Their writings give us an insight into a world that is totally unlike ours, clearly illustrating the events that contributed to its destruction through a conjoined narrative rather than a random collection of letters that happened to have survived in somebody's loft. I am not sure that in 100 years we will have this type of narrative from Afghanistan with Skype and today's e-world unless everybody saves their emails!

A book of this sort makes me want to experience that very different kind of existence, if only for a day or two! A world where everything was `topping' and `ripping' or `rotten' and `frightful'. The periods of Toby's leave related to us from Marjorie's diary are very enlightening and it is interesting to read that a young lady of Marjorie's class was prepared to take the sort of risks that don't apply today! I commend to you the diary entry of 22nd May 1916 in the context of Edwardian middle class morals.

I have to criticise one thing and how many times do we read this? As a draughtswoman, I am bound to mention this, but oh dear, the maps. I found the Loos one particularly bad as it depicts virtually none of the places mentioned in the text and does not even show the front lines.

Otherwise, I recommend this volume wholeheartedly as probably one of the best; if not the best book of its type we shall ever see, especially at the distance of virtually a century.


Army Service Corps 1902-1918
Army Service Corps 1902-1918
by Mike Young
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a superbly detailed study of this vital part of the BEF, 24 July 2001
This book is a must for anyone with a serious interest in the ASC. Michael Young has given a fine description of the growth and development of the ASC before and during WW1. This is no mean feat since the Corps was everywhere at once, and this makes it mauch harder to describe than, say, a divisional history.
It has over 100 photos, the bulk of which are unpublished. Many researchers will find the 20 appendices (which comprise half the book) to be particularly useful for identifying where and in what capacity a particular ASC unit served. For these two things alone it is excellent value for money.


Boiselle, La: Somme (Battleground Europe)
Boiselle, La: Somme (Battleground Europe)
by Michael Stedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.15

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best in the Battleground Europe series, 24 July 2001
One of the best in the Battleground Europe series because it draws on more unpublished primary material than most of the others.


Battle Tactics of the Western Front: British Army's Art of Attack, 1916-18
Battle Tactics of the Western Front: British Army's Art of Attack, 1916-18
by Paddy Griffith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.95

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first rate detailed review of tactics, 24 July 2001
This book digs deeply into the primary sources of war diares, memoirs and above all training manuals and pamphlets to look at how tactical doctrine in the BEF changed from its nadir of 1915-early 1916 to the recognizably modern tactics of 1918.
It is a useful corrective to the mythology that has built up around the German Army, and shows that the BEF did move up the learning curve.
The one weakness is the relative lack of comparative analysis, but the book would have been three times bigger had he done this.


A Military Atlas of the First World War
A Military Atlas of the First World War
by Arthur Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.61

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a very useful reference book, 24 July 2001
This book is a very useful reference book, and is packed with information on all aspects of the war, not just the main fighting fronts. For example, it has maps of the German zeppelin raids over the UK.
However, its big weakness is that the maps do not have height/contour and other topographic information, which is major problem for tactical studies. Anthony Liveseys atlas is better in this regard since its maps are in colour and are topographic, however it is weaker than Banks when loking at events outside the battle zones. They complement each other well.


The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History
The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History
by Peter Dennis
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars essential for those interested in Aussie military history, 7 Jun 2001
As one would expect from a book whose contributors seem to include most of the current leading military historians in Australia, this book is an essential reference. The 800+ entries cover all periods from the settlement of the continent until the present. It is also liberally illustrated with maps and photos.
I particularly value the thematic essays which cover a wide variety of topics from the Anzac Legend to War Art.


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