Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Finally Done: "1914: Voices From the Battlefield" by Matthew Richardson

Finally Done: 1914: Voices From the Battlefield by Matthew Richardson, 2013, 9781848847774.

Richardson uses diaries, letters, and memoirs from soldiers to tell the main battle histories of 1914. Starting with the German push into France, brief stalemate outside Paris, attempts by both sides to swing north and flank one another, down to fighting around Paris and then to Ypres.

A neat book that fell victim to my tendency to study rather than enjoy NonFic titles. The maps were not very good. Speaking of which, I think I bought a WWI themed book of maps...yep, just found it listed on the shelf: Mapping the First World War: battlefields of the great conflict from above by Simon Forty. Those maps are from the British national archive and from the period.

Anyway. I liked this but must admit I was not enthralled. There are several times I lay reading this in bed and falling asleep. [Lay? Laying? Lying? No matter.] But, Richardson did a neat job of writing his own narrative of the battles which included researching details down to platoon and company level and then integrating the many personal stories of Allied and German soldiers.

1. The English Army in that first year was all professionals. The reserves that were called up had done several years in active duty before finishing their enlistment. They were still speed shooting their rifles.
2. The English soldiers were motivated to fight. So were the Germans. They both considered the other the aggressor. Discipline, unit pride, faith in each other, etc. kept them on the line under massive artillery attacks.
3. Massive and prolonged artillery attacks started out early in the war. That was not something that developed. I was reading through The Western Front Companion that covered how walking barrages were developed over time.
4. No civilian voices. British troops do write about refugees and civilians who hunker down trying to wait things out.
5. Throughout the book are portraits of some of the memoir writers and some of the many dead from each battle.
6. No stories of note for me to repeat. Human wave tactics seemed to be the norm. The Germans would advance across flat land against massed rifle fire, machine gun fire and artillery. It's amazing anyone survived enough to reach the enemy let alone overcome the enemy position.
7. Richardson mentions how several of the soldiers he includes wrote professionally in their pre-war and post-war lives. I'd like to look up a few of those titles but do not want to hunt through 1914 to find those people again. The bib. does list some of the full published memoirs he pulled from.
8. Reminds me of the first two books from Siegfried Sassoon's Sherston trilogy. The second book, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, was damn good. I still haven't read the third book.

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