on 5 November 2004
This book should be on the shelves of any student of the Great War. Its is well researched and contains a great many pictures that have never met the public gaze before.
Bernard Lewis' work is first class as he has charted the formation of the battalion from the outset of the war by the mayor of Swansea, it's training prior to being sent overseas and its actions at both Mametz Wood on the Somme, the now infamous first day of the Passendale offensive in 1917 and its part in the much forgotten last 100 days of the war, when the British Army was still advancing when the Armistice was signed in November 1918.
The book portrays superbly what were seemingly ordinary men thrust into an extra-ordinary environment to carry out an unimaginable task and one that they performed exceptionally well.
I myself tried to research this battalion as my great uncle (Sgt David Howell Evans) served with them, but was put off by what seemed like scant information. Fortunatly Bernard Lewis was not but off by such a trifling matter and has left no stone unturned in looking for documentary evidence for this book. He has truly done the memory of these brave men justice.
This is a splendid example of meticulous research of a locally raised infantry unit. It will be of interest not only to the people of Swansea and South Wales, but to those interested in the doings of the 38th (Welsh) Division and of the Kitchener's volunteer armies in general.
Bernard Lewis has managed to produce a highly readable account of the battalion, and has ably demonstrated that not all "Pals" battalions followed the familiar pattern of being filled within hours by a flood of willing recruits, who were gunned down on 1st July 1916 and hardly heard of again. The Swansea battalion took a long time to complete, and efforts to recruit into its ranks were being made against a backdrop where many thousands of Swansea men were joining other units, including the town's own Territorial units.
After suffering continual losses in learning the ways of trench warfare in the Richebourg - Laventie - Givenchy area, the battalion moved into action on the Somme, and the searing experience of the terrible attack on Mametz Wood in July 1916. Inevitably, the casualties suffered had an awful effect on Swansea, and Lewis recounts many tales of local men, drawing upon newspapers, private accounts and correspondence to do so. He has also collected an impressive array of photographs and press clippings of local men, each of which illustrate the story beautifully.
After Mametz Wood, the battalion is rebuilt and goes on to action again, most notably at Pilkem Ridge in 1917. The entire story is told clearly and with good pace, right through the various acts of memory in the post war years and up to the present day.
The history of the battalion has never been written before, despite good intentions after the war. Bernard's book goes a long way to correct the omission.
I very much like the format of the book, which is slightly larger than A5 in size, a much better prospect for a normal bookshelf than the rather unwieldy large format books of the early "Pals" series produced by Pen and Sword. The book is nicely produced, and at £14.99 represents good value.
Overall, a strongly recommended addition to your Great War library.