41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Bound to become a standard work,
This review is from: Major and Mrs. Holt's Concise Guide to the Western Front - North (Holts Battlefield Guides) (Paperback)
My own first faltering steps at making tours of the battlefields of the Great War were taken with a copy of Rose Coombs seminal work, "Before Endeavours Fade". At the time, it was just about the only battlefield tour guide and with revisions it has deservedly managed to retain its popularity for amateur battlefield tourists to this day. In recent years, the Battleground Europe series has added hugely to the availability of simple but highly informative pocket sized guides that allow one to progress from the first visit, to detailed studies of particular actions and locations, and even extended walks across fields full of significance. Tonie and Valmia Holt have already published a fine series of guides to the Ypres, Somme and other areas, so I must admit on first hearing of this book to questioning whether another guide book was really necessary. I am glad to say that I believe "The Western Front - North" is a good and worthwhile book, sure to find an important place in the market.
The book does not set out to give the visitor a step-by-step "turn left here, turn right there" route around the battle sites, but instead provides clear maps of a given area, and goes on to describe the key locations, providing some splendid photographs of each. The visitor can easily construct their own itinerary from the riches shown.
The guide does not take us out into the fields and woods to get a feel of the ground, but focuses sharply on the lasting visible legacies - cemeteries, memorials, museums, bunkers, and so on. As such, the utility of the book for the seasoned battlefield tourist would probably be rather limited, but for the fact that it covers some of the lesser known battlefields of northern France and Flanders. Not too many go beyond Ypres and the Somme; this book takes us into Loos, Aubers, Vimy Ridge, Arras and other places of memory. For the first-timer, I can think of no better presentation of the main sites.
There are some surprises. The 1915 battlefields of Artois - hugely important for the French army - receive very little coverage, for example. But this is balanced by an excellent section of the little understood area of the River Yser, the calvary of the Balgian army for so long during the war.
The list of sites mentioned is bang up to date, with recent discoveries and developments being covered. Inevitably such a work is out of date almost as soon as published, but I have no doubt that things will be kept fresh with sucessive reprints, as this book is bound to become a standard work on the subject.
The maps, photographs and text are models of clarity, and I could find no obvious errors or omissions of historical fact. Then again, with the Holt's having been at the forefront of commercialising battlefield tourism for many years, I would have been surprised had I found any.
The book is nicely produced, and at £14.99 (cover price) respresents good value. No doubt that after a couple of good trips it would become grubby and dog-eared, but my copy was pretty robust and unlikely to fall to bits on the windswept Flanders Plain.
Overall, a good buy for armchair tourists, first timers and tour veterans alike.