Top 5 First World War books ‘yule’ love this Christmas!

ChristmasAmidst the plethora of First World War books to hit the shelves in the past 12 months, Duncan Rogers -our Publisher – recommends five titles any military history enthusiast would be pleased to receive this Christmas (including yourself!)

Frontline Medic – Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres. The Diary of Captain George Pirie, R.A.M.C Frontline Medic1914 – 17’ by Michael Lucas

Duncan says: “A fascinating and carefully-edited diary of a man who saw a great deal of frontline action.”

‘I was dressing the wounded in the trenches – enough said. Worse than Hell…’

That’s the recollection of ‘Frontline Medic’ Captain George Pirie who, as one of ‘Kitchener’s Army’, bravely volunteered for a Royal Army Medical Corps Special Reserve commission in December 1914.

It was a selfless decision that would take him to the casualty-strewn fields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Ypres – where he was tragically killed in action in July 1917.

Now, to honour the Regimental Medical Officer (R.M.O.) who was said to have an ‘indefatigable’ devotion to duty, editor Michael Lucas has brought Pirie’s war diaries to a centenary audience.

Understanding the SommeUnderstanding the Somme 1916 – An Illuminating Battlefield Guide’ by Thomas Scotland and Steven Heys

Duncan says: “It does exactly what it says on the cover!”

“Look to your left or right and see the Accrington Pals walking past you, or the Yorkshires running by in a hail of machine-gun fire. It takes you back to as it was and where it happened with you standing there – book in hand – surrounded by the battle!”

That’s the tantalising vow Steven Heys, co-author of Understanding the Somme 1916 – An Illuminating Battlefield Guide, makes as he introduces his latest work with fellow surgeon, Thomas Scotland.

A guidebook with a difference, it is not a list of memorials and cemeteries. Its aim is to provide the reader with an understanding of the Battle of the Somme. There were some partial successes; there were many disastrous failures. In 17 concise chapters dealing with different areas of the battlefield and various aspects of strategy, this book explains what happened in each location and why.

A Moonlight Massacre – The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December Moonlight cover1917. The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres’ by Michael LoCicero

Duncan says: “An immensely detailed operational history that does not forget to provide the human face of war.”

The Third Battle of Ypres was officially terminated by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig with the opening of the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917. Nevertheless, a comparatively unknown set-piece attack – the only large-scale night operation carried out on the Flanders front during the campaign – was launched 12 days later on 2 December. This volume is a necessary corrective to previously-published campaign narratives of what has become popularly known as ‘Passchendaele’.

The casual reader will appreciate the engaging in-depth battle narrative with analysis approach and specially-commissioned artwork. The academic may take note that this opaque episode of the First World War has been thoroughly examined for the first time in all of its political, grand strategic, strategic, operational and tactical complexities.

The ideal accompaniment: Artist Peter Dennis has produced a limited run of 500 prints inspired by ‘A Moonlight Massacre’ (25 signed) printed on high-quality matte paper.

Get Tough Stay ToughGet Tough Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-18’ by K. Radley

Duncan says: “A finely-crafted and ground-breaking study; important not just for the Canadians, but for the entire British Expeditionary Force (BEF) experience on the Western Front.”

Like the author’s earlier work We Lead, Others Follow, originality shines through in this present book – the work reflecting wide and thorough research; sound analysis; first-class and engaging writing (the book is not without humour); and a fascinating rendering of the temper of Canadian and British fighting men of the time.

Readers should keep in mind that the attitudes, belief, opinions and prejudices expressed herein are those of the officers and men of 1914-18. It is their view of the world that is being reported. Obviously much has changed since 1918, but certain basic aspects of soldiering and war remain. Comparisons are left to the reader, but any judgements should reflect the fact that fighting men of that time – now a century in the past – lived and breathed the reality of that world called the Western Front.

The Horns of the Beast. The Swakop River Campaign and World War 1 in South Africa The Horns of the Beast1914-15’ by J. Stejskal

Duncan says: “An important record of an overlooked campaign – demonstrating a side of the First World War far beyond the Western Front.”

In December of 1914, veteran Boer commander General Louis Botha landed his forces on the coast of German South West Africa to finish off the colony’s Schutztruppe defenders. In August, the South Africans had started off badly with a disastrous battle at Sandfontein and an internal rebellion that could have torn the Union of South Africa apart. Botha’s campaign would eventually lead to victory, but it would not be easy. Overshadowed and largely forgotten by the battles in Europe, this was one of the more distant – and now almost forgotten – episodes of the First World War.

Using primary sources, on-the-ground research and accurate maps and charts of the battles, the author sheds new light on the operations of the South African army in its first foreign war and the Schutztruppe defence of German South West Africa. The book also demonstrates the terrible cost of miscalculations by politicians and military leaders on both sides.

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