on 11 March 2015
This very readable account of the beginning of the Great War concentrates on the much smaller but effective British contribution by the contemptible little army, the Kaiser claimed never to have used this phrase but to have said insignificant little army and but for the training in marksmanship he would have been correct and the Germans got a bit of a shock some historians doubt this but I feel they overlook the German looting of Alcohol on the grand scale that caused friendly fire incidents that civilians at times paid a heavy price for and perhaps coupled to the usual courage over confidence in attack, this did not last long any more than the French continued with brave but suicidal charges against German forces, neither the French or German army had had a sobering lesson from the Boers, focus is never lost of what a viscous exhausting episode this was for everyone involved,there are many good accounts old and new of this campaign but I am pleased I read this one first as it lays out the day to day action in a way very easy to take in and the reading of other books on the events if 1914 far easier to comprehend.
on 14 July 2011
A very good book, quite informative without being over-detailed. Have just returned from a battlefield trip to Mons (First and Last Shots of World War I) and this was a good reference book to gain an overview of the Retreat from Mons without getting bogged down in technicalities. Book was new, received on time and in good condition. Very pleased.
on 4 May 2011
Readable historians are not widespread; I was reading the first chapter when I decided that John Terraine was one of the rare, readable ones. AN easily digestible read, he painted an interesting picture of how the 3 nations' armies involved arrived with outdated tactics and equipment and evolved along the way. An important period in European history< I found this an absorbing read.
on 22 November 2011
John Terraine (1923-2001) was a historian who set out to correct various myths which had arisen about the First World War, the most persistent of which is that it was all `pointless'. We still hear this one repeated, regularly, by pacifists.
At the time the War was regarded by vast numbers of people in Britain as `The Great War for Civilisation', which had saved Europe from German militarism (and even barbarism). The family of every man who fell was sent a medallion, which bore the that inscription and the words `He died for Honour and for Freedom' on the other side. (I have one, because my grandfather was killed during the last German offensive of March 1918). Thereafter, the poets and revisionists got to work, culminating in the popular film `Oh What A Lovely War!' which portrayed the whole thing as a futile and bloody shambles. Tell that to the Belgians, who were occupied by the Germans for four years; and tell it to the Russians, who had to submit to a dictated peace in 1917, at Brest-Litovsk.
In a series of books, Terraine attempted to show that there was much truth in the inscription on that medal than we had come to believe. He was the mastermind behind the BBC's brilliant series `The Great War' (1964) and the author of `Douglas Haig, the Educated Soldier' (1963) which attempted to refute the idea that Haig was merely the leading `donkey', in an undistinguished cast of British generals.
`Mons' is now re-published by `Pen & Sword' and this is most welcome. It was first published in 1960. It takes us back to August 1914, before the world learned the meaning of trench warfare and before the War Poets started to spread their insidious messages of defeatism, to a time when the War was still one of movement and battles were unpredictable, though everyone hoped it would all be over by Christmas. It criticises the generals on all sides, but in a moderate and meaningful way. It explains the strategy, in terms we can understand. There are some great anecdotes (for example, of how Sir John French tried to speak French to his opposite number); and the narrative is nicely woven with personal memoirs.
The book marked the first chapter in Terraine's revision of the revisionists. He shows, above all, that the British assisted the French greatly in slowing down the German invasion of France in 1914. Had they not done so, the Schlieffen Plan might well have worked. It might have been 1870 all over again; or to put it another way, it could have been 1940, 25 years early. The French might have been knocked out of the war and the British Army destroyed, with incalculable consequences for Europe and democracy. Make no mistake about it, the Germans were just as much of a threat in 1914 as they were 1939; and, though we no longer like to mention it, they did start both World Wars.
The book is eminently readable, though the maps are not as good as one might have hoped for; and the layman will wish for an explanation of the numbers. (How many troops in a battalion, and how many in a division?)
on 13 January 2013
John Terraine writes as an enthusiast as well as a scholar. His account is very well written and provides a gripping account of the valour as well as the confusion as the main enemy force met a highly professional, but small army of only 5 divisions. Inevitably confusion was a major element on both sides in the very fluid early days.Often the valour of small groups operating almost independently was all that stood between defeat and victory. By the time the remnants had rached the Marne, the German plan had been defeated and the 'Old Contemptibles' had ceased to exist. It is a compelling story.
on 22 April 2014
This book was first published over 50 years ago, and possibly opinions have changed since that time. A most readable book but the author perhaps takes an over-kindly view of the actions of the BEF, particularly at Mons and Le Cateau. Nevertheless this is a first class account of the opening stage of the war.