This is the story of the 2nd London Division, which was numbered 47 in May 1915 when the TF divisions were allocated numbers. The history of the 56th (1st London) Division has already been reprinted by N & M Press. The 47th left for France in March 1915, the second TF division to arrive there. 1915 was a busy year for the division. In May it was in the Battles of Aubers Ridge and Festubert and in September/October it was at Loos and the Hohenzollern Redoubt suffering some 4,200 casualties in all. The first months of 1916 were spent in reserve and in the Vimy sector, fighting amid the craters, fighting which cost the division 2,100 killed, wounded and missing. In August the division moved south to the Somme. It captured High Wood on 15 September, during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, an action in which it experienced the fiercest fighting in the whole of its service on the Western Front. The divisional history records that in four days it suffered 4,500 casualties, more than in the four battles of 1915 combined. Despite the success the GOC, Major-General C. Barter, was dismissed and sent home two weeks later, charged with `wanton waste of men.' He was subsequently exonerated and knighted, though his demands for an official enquiry were refused. One cannot help feeling that the one who should have gone was the corps commander, Pulteney. The recently restored divisional memorial is on the edge of the wood, beside the Martinpuich-Longueval road, and on the other side of the road is the London Cemetery, named after the division.In October the division left the Somme and went north to the Ypres salientwhere it remained for almost a year, most of the time in the area of the Bluff and Hill 60. The major battle in which it took part during this period was at Messines, in June, where it was one of the attacking divisions following the explosion of the mines along Messines Ridge. In September the division left the Salient and moved down to the Gavrelle-Oppy front, relieving the 63rd (RN) Division. They were now in Horne's First Army. After a stay of only two months the division moved again, down to Byng's Third Army where it was in action in the defence of Bourlon Wood during the Cambrai battle, recording the third highest casualty list of all the divisions involved - 3,357.When the Germans launched their offensive in March 1918 the 47th Division was in the line in the Flesquieres salient, in V Corps, on the extreme right of Third Army. Over the next six days the division conducted a fighting withdrawal till, on 26 March it crossed the Ancre where the enemy advance was brought to a halt. Ironically, the division's line of retreat had taken it through High Wood which it had captured at great cost eighteen months earlier. In the final advance to victory the division, now in Fourth Army, retraced its steps through the Somme battlefield till, in October it came under command Fifth Army in the operations in Artois. Almost its final act was to make the official entry into Lille on 28 October, led by the Army Commander, General Birdwood, while the bands played and the crowds cheered.This is a good history, with more photos and illustrations than any other and very good maps. There are a number of appendices providing information on a variety of subjects: Order of Battle and changes; comprehensive lists of Commanders and Staffs as well as COs of infantry, artillery, engineer, medical units and divisional train and all their changes; list of honours and awards including two VCs; brief historical notes on the units that served in the division; the divisional entertainment troupe `The Follies' and more besides.
If you want to know what the 47th Division were up to in World War 1, then this is the book for you. Alan Maude appears to be a staff officer in the 47th Division and has a fascinating insight as to what was going on. He was with the Division for most of the war and the 47th was involved in many of the famous battles. Their Battle honours include Loos, The Somme (including Flers Courcelette and the Transloy Ridges), Messines Ridge, Ypres, the 1918 Somme Battles including Arras and Bapaume. If there is a criticism of the book it is that Maude was involved at a higher tactical level and was not particularly concerned with the day to day activities of the men in the trench. The principle operation of the 47th was probably taking High Wood when everyone else had failed. However, the slaughter of the men in the attacking brigades was horrific and four days of fighting cost them 4,500 men. Maude glosses over the fact that at the time the Divisional general was unfairly relieved of duty for wanton waste of men. However, he is on safer ground when he captures the fear and exhaustion when the Division was ordered to retreat from near Cambrai because of a German break through further south. The sudden change from a static war to a dynamic war where the positions were constantly changing was extremely challenging and adapting to the changed circumstances was hard for both the British and the Germans.
On the whole an invaluable book and although not a particularly easy read it is written by an author who lived through it all and it gives an accurate account of what was happening.