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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 22 February 2012
Jerry Murland is an ex soldier, mountaineering instructor and teacher. He is also the and author of the recent, and highly regarded Aristocrats Go To War. He brings the all rounder's approach to his analysis and history of wahat Basil Liddel Hart called "that thing apart", the regular British Army of 1914.

This is a period and a subject in which I have a particular interest; Murland's book is one I opened with particular relish and closed without finding disappointment. Like the best of current military historians the author has the ability to knit his narrative of events with truly apposite personal stories and accounts. Drawn from published and unpublished papers and accounts, they both colour his work and inform the reader.

Absurdly, the Pen and Sword's publicity release for the book describes the account of the 12 day, 200 mile, retreat from Mons as a "near rout, "over blood drenched miles". Murland gives the lie to such half baked blurb. Certainly, there was poor, broken, communication, certainly there were losses. Certainly much was poorly accomplished by officers at all levels in the fog of this new kind of warfare. Yet itt was a retreat imposed on the British, not least by the withdrawal of French flanking forces. Few retreats by `new', small, and learning, army, have been better handled, They were led by commanders experienced only in `small wars', and a larger irrelevant one on the South African veldt, untypical of either previous or following wars.

Like authors before Jerry Murland has underlined that,despite inevitable losses, the retreat from Mons and the rearguard actions en route to the outskirt of Paris was an impressive feat of arms. Rearguard and Retreat may not be the last word on the subject, but it will most certainly do until that, if ever, comes along. This is an essential book on the early days of the Great war;key reading for anyone interested in the British Army of in 14, its abilities, its flaws, its officers , and the bloody minded men in its ranks.
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on 22 April 2013
Whilst we await shedloads of books on the Great War in the centenary years ahead, there are still some recent publications which are worthy of note. The diligently researched TITLE “does what it says on the tin” and provides a description of many of the smaller actions of BEF in the Mons to the Marne retreat of Aug- Sept 1914. Whilst the well-documented set pieces of Mons and Le Cateau receive adequate treatment in a readable publication which draws heavily on participants’ diaries, there are well deserved detailed accounts of the actions at Audregnies and Etreux which saw the sacrifice of battalions of the Cheshire and the Munsters. The author would appear to have no axes to grind in his essay and his story is the better for that but ,whilst acknowledging many sources, his chapter on the bridge demolition would have gained form a study of the Douglas Haig Fellowship’s annual publication: Records.
Maps are the Achilles heel of all military history publications and this work is no exception. Irish Guardsmen will feel aggrieved that they do not appear on the sketch of Villers- Cotterets and, similarly, men of the Cheshires would regret the absence of the iconic windmill in the depiction of the stand at Audregnies. What makes this book a work to recommend for the general reader is a “What Happened Next” chapter in which the author traces the adventures of some of those “left behind” in the headlong retreat. Stories of evaders and escapers in the Second War have been much publicised but those similar in the earlier conflict do not appear to have attracted the same interest. This easy to read book goes some way to rectify the omission.
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on 23 January 2014
THE story of the British clash with German troops in the First World War at the Belgian town of Mons is one well told.
Tales of highly-trained men in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) firing 15 aimed rounds a minute to shoot down rows of advancing Germans has become one of the many legends of the conflict.
But in Retreat and Rearguard 1914, Jerry Murland takes a closer look at the legend of the so-called British `mad minute' as well as exploring the less well known engagements during the army's retreat to the River Marne during the war's opening months.
I've always been a fan of reading something which will challenge presumptions, and in Retreat and Rearguard, Murland has done just that.
Drawing from a wealth of primary source evidence, Murland asserts that he `finds it hard to take seriously' the popular contention of British battalions mowing down hundreds of Germans advancing shoulder-to-shoulder at Mons.
But he gives credit where credit is due and writes that, despite exaggerated accounts, the British Army accounted for itself `extremely well' in its opening battle.
After the clash at Mons the BEF was forced to retreat 200 miles, along with its French allies, in the face of overwhelming German numerical superiority.
Along the way, British units fought numerous rearguard engagements against their German foes, who were rarely out of touch.
It is these actions, such as the calamitous cavalry charge at Audregnies on August 24 and the heroism of L Battery at Nery a week later, which fills the previously blank canvas between Mons and the German retreat following the Battle of the Marne.
Murland also dedicates a chapter to the countless parties of men cut off from their units in the retreat and forced underground in the German rear areas. These stories did not always end well.
Many were taken in by Belgian families but jealousies and suspicions led to betrayals and, as a result, scores were uncovered by the Germans and shot as spies.
All in all, Retreat and Rearguard 1914 is definitely worth a read for anyone who wants to delve a little deeper in the British story of 1914.
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on 28 March 2014
Dispels a lot of old myths about the BEF in 1914 and yes it was it was a very small force compared to the German and French armies but the amazing heroics of such a small force facing annihilation are truely amazing, the soldiers and the young Officers of the BEF make you proud to be British, its a very good read please give it a try.
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on 7 January 2014
I viewed a number of books to provide me with a detailed summary of the actions of the BEF from the outbreak of ww 1 and was not disappointed with my selection. I would recommend it as a great reference point for following the action at several locations as the withdrawal developed. Thanks to the author for the detailed action encounters across the whole BEF.
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on 2 May 2014
The book is well written and moves at a nice pace for easy reading. It is poorly illustrated and some of the geographic and tactical aspects could be better understood with some further maps and photos. Several of the author's adamant assertions are factually incorrect and I suspect he has not dug deep enough into German diaries and memoirs. It is a slanted view of some of the actions. His assertion that British infantry did not inflict the casualties credited to them fails to explain why the German tidal wave was so abruptly brought to a halt and why Kluck's First Army failed to pursue the retreating BEF more closely. It seems at times the author is more interested in revising history than examining facts.
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on 25 August 2015
As others have described, this is an excellent, well-researched, and thoroughly readable book. My only gripe is the lack of detailed maps. There are a few but, more often than not, one reads "...... and deployed to the west of such-and-such-a village" or "....were forced to retire to X" only to find there is no corresponding detail on any of the small maps. This makes some of the narrative harder to follow or visualise. That aside, I heartily recommend it.
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on 19 June 2014
Having used a few chapters of this on a recent trip to the Western Front, I can heartily recommend this book as not just a great 'guide' but a good account of the battles fought by the Old Contemptibles. The author is to be commended on making the chapters of a good size, well researched yet still of a digestible size to easily facilitate use as a book and a guide. You can tell from the description that Jerry Murland has walked the battlefields many times and trod the earth, he may even have fell in a ditch or two. Would recommend this to anyone with a good knowledge or a passing interest, it works for both. I look forward to his coming book of the same nature for the year 1918.
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on 15 November 2013
I learnt about this book through a circuitous route. Jerry Murland posted a request for information about someone who is mentioned several times in this book. By chance my son saw this post and contacted the author. That someone was my grandfather who died in 1920 and of whom we knew very little. To discover that Jerry has uncovered a very substantial amount of the history of his part in this courageous story was amazing.

Personal interest aside I found the book very compelling. Jerry has succeeded in drawing together all the complexities of this action to create a very readable narrative that brings vividly to life again many of the courageous men and women who played a part in this history. The statistics of the First World War have often got in the way of telling the human story. This book goes some way to redressing that balance and it is timely in it's publication on the eve of the centenary of that conflict.
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