Wow - what a great book, excellent addition to any one who likes history but also anyone who has any sort of humanity. A must read for every one fortunate enough not to be one of then BEF and commemorate the deeds of those who were. Outnumbered and outgunned, let down by the general staff who hadn't a clue, a testimony to the bravery and resolution of the subalterns who did.
The Devil's Carnival is one of the most interesting books I have read about WW1. It highlights part of WW1 that little is known about, The first few month's of the war. It is well written and takes you through the start till the first trench war. It is full of interesting reports of the war written by officers who were there in the thick of it. excellent read.
This book by John Sneddon examines the progress of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers though the campaign of 1914 - mainly through the eyes of Captain Beauchamp Tudor St John, but with valuable contributions from Lieutenant F. E. Watkins and (from October) Captain E. B. Gordon. Sometimes editors actually detract from the diaries they are editing by the addition of clichéd analysis that only betrays an ignorance of the subject. In contrast Sneddon contributes a rather wonderful introduction which looks at the genesis of the war and then examines the structure, equipment and personnel of a 1914 infantry battalion. Throughout the book his text adds value to the original quotes, thankfully avoiding sentimentality and trite judgements.
Captain Beauchamp Tudor St John is the dominant voice and he is an acute observer, possessed of a retentive memory and an ability to describe events so that we can generally follow what was going on - at least as much as St John knew himself. The focus is limited: as a relatively junior officer his perspective is limited to what he can see around him. I was already aware of his memoir as we have a copy at the Imperial War Museum and even in that august collection it stands out as one of the very best of that period. His account of the defence of Mariette during the Battle of Mons on the 23 August is quite exceptionally detailed.
Both St John and Watkins then recount the myriad confusions, the skirmishes, the packed or blocked roads, the sheer exhaustion of retreat - and the need to keep their men going even when they themselves were almost done. Then the advance to the Aisne, by then the exhausted St John was temporarily in hospital and recuperating and Watkins sketches the start of trench warfare for the BEF.
The so-called race to the sea was another confusing period and the fighting engulfed the battalion, fast eroding its strength. In amidst this St John gives a wonderful account of the capture of Fromelles alongside the French on 17 October. This is contrary to the popular belief that fighting in this sector did not begin until 1916! This was followed by severe fighting around the village of Neuve Chapelle. Finally, although reduced to only about 350 men, the Northumberlands moved down towards Messines, where on 1 November, St John was severely wounded in their abortive attack on Wytschaete. His account of his wounds and inner thoughts as it was all happening are riveting stuff. But the fighting went on without him as the battalion moved down to Ypres itself, where Captain Gordon records the final throes of the German attempts to break through to the Channel Ports. The battalion then return to the Wytschaete sector where they would see out the year.
All in all a wonderful book, a fascinating unit and the St John memoir is a real classic. It is to John Sneddon's further credit that he is donating the proceeds from the book to the Fusiliers' Museum.