on 2 October 2000
As a way of opening up a wider perspective on a chronically underrated, though top-stature chronicler of the Great War such as Edmund Blunden, the homonymous volume does deserve its merits. To be true, the author's tandem have won their undisputed places, whether in the field of War poetry or battlefield tourism. Yet, any reader with more than a basic notion of Blunden as a prose writer and poet, risks staying on the breadline as he thumbs through the pages of this volume in the Battleground Series.
As the series editor does not fail to point out, discovering Blunden is like hitting upon a treasure-trove, and it may well be a puzzling question for an author to decide how he is to tackle Blunden's precocious prowess at matching literary suggestivity with the immediacy of the appeal of the cataclysmic battlefield experience for the ordinary soldier. The plentiful illustrations, drawn quite often from Blunden's carefully updated picture book, easily constitute the better part of this publication, along with some highly instructive combinations of pics "then" and "now". Living in the region where (the second) half of Blunden's experiences took place, one's factual expectations are equally met, especially when it comes to specifications about the sites to be visited themselves.
Unfortunately, barely any hint remains of Blunden's truly outstanding narrative technique used in Undertones of War, and what one reads is but a crude summary. In that way, On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War is less a match for the kind of reading one is to expect, rather than Battleground Europe.
Where Blunden's talent springs to mind, he is unequalled either way, both in subtlety and in accuracy. The reader who has completed this volume, should not feel too put off by the real thing.