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Fills some gaps
on 10 May 2012
For their comparatively small size, the British Official History of military operations dedicates more space to the battles of 1914 than any other period. It dedicates as much attention to the actions of battalions as it does to entire Divisions in the final Allied offensive of 1918. Yet it also manages to miss, or give short shrift to, several localised and numerically small actions that proved to be of crucial importance in the British withdrawal from Mons and the long slog southward that ended with a crossing of the Marne in September 1914. There is a gap to be filled and Jerry Murland's "Retreat and rearguard" does it well: it comprises a series of vignettes that go a long way to explaining these actions and improving our understanding of the nature of early war experience of the "Old Contemptibles".
Drawing on a wide range of sources - many personal accounts having not hitherto been published - and illustrating them with some clear maps, Murland describes battalion-sized actions at, amongst others, Audregnies, Le Grand Fayt, Etreux and Nery, along with many other instances of small unit rearguards, and setting them in the context of the overall retreat. The description of fighting is down at tactical, individual level although set in context of bigger things. The book illustrates that while it was exhausting and at times perplexing, the retreat did not descend into chaos and at times the BEF gave the advancing Germans a sufficiently bloody nose to hold them off and buy precious time. This was achieved at no little cost, with several units suffering terrible casualties.
A good book, well worth buying especially if you have an interest in the war's early phases.