The Great War, WWII, and so much more
The Battle of the Somme, Britain’s bloodiest battle in all time, occurred 100 years ago, and the UK’s Endeavour Press marks the sacrifice with a sale on several books about the great battle and the Great War, most for a mere 99 cents (USD). Other significant savings are available today, from biographies & memoirs to historical fiction set in World War II. It’s a great day to have a Kindle!
Subaltern on the Somme is the memoir of a junior officer whose regiment suffered the heaviest casualties of any unit on the first day of the battle, with 70 percent killed or wounded. Max Plowman, who served in the 10th Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment, tells the story of trench warfare from the perspective of a junior officer.
“The war of attrition” entered the military lexicon in 1916, and Attrition: The Great War on the Western Front by Robin Neillands explores the beginning of this new form of warfare.
At the start of 1916, the outlook was the Franco-British Armies on the Western Front. They were getting the men and guns they needed. New technology in the shape of tanks and aircraft was about to appear and, after more than a year of fighting what amounted to private wars, the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Italy and their allies) were about to mount a number of co-ordinated offensives against the German and Austrian Armies, culminating in the Big Push – a joint Anglo-French offensive astride the Somme.
But then, unfortunately for the Allies, the Germans struck first, at Verdun. By New Years Day, 1916, the fighting on the Western Front had cost some two million lives – by the end of the year it had risen to four million men and the territorial gains had been negligible. Focusing on this crucial year, Neillands examines the actions of the principal commanders as they sought a way to win the war and opted for the deadly doctrine of attrition: the notion that it was only possible to win by killing a vast number of soldiers. The soldiers, German, French, British, Canadian, Australian, died in their hundreds of thousands at Verdun, along the Ancre and on the Pozieres ridge in the muddy fields above the Somme.
A controversial and compelling text, Attrition points at the failure of the high command to realise that until new offensive technology was invented to overcome the bias of defensive technology, the death toll could only rise, and asks why no system of Supreme Command was set up to handle the strategic direction of the war. Although 1916 did see some Allied success – the French held Verdun against the German assault, the British introduced the tank – when that fatal year ended, victory and peace were as far away as ever … and another two million lives had been lost.
Days to Remember explores the conflict in terms of Empire. This is not merely the history of the Western Front, but the history of the colonials who fought, willingly or not, for the British Empire.
In this fascinating study, Henry Newbolt and John Buchan take a general overview of the First World War, from its causes to the aftermath, with the focus on the central role played by both Britain and its colonies. They cover the major campaigns on the Western Front – Ypres, Loos, Cambrai, Marrières Wood and the Marne, as well as the battles fought around the globe – in particular Galipolli and the capture of Jerusalem – and the main campaigns at sea.
Henry Newbolt was born in Wolverhampton in 1862, and went on to become a poet, novelist and historian. He was also a very powerful government adviser. John Buchan was a Scottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who also served as Governor General of Canada. During the First World War he worked for the British War Propaganda Bureau. He is most famous for his classic thriller, ‘The 39 Steps’.
Animal Heroes of the Great War is the history of the furred and feathered soldiers, from beasts of burdens to mascots and messengers:
During the World War I nearly 70 million combatants served in the armies of all the countries and empires, but there was another army involved, one that is often overlooked in the history of war: The army of animals that supported the armies of men.
From regimental mascots to beasts of burden, animals played a vital part in the war machine of all involved, and often beyond anything we might imagine. There was man’s best friend — brave, loyal dogs who served as patrolmen, messengers, sentries, even combatants and detectives. Communication has increased importance in modern warfare, yet at times a homing pigeon’s instinct of orientation was the sole hope available to soldiers in the field. And despite the lowering esteem in which conventional cavalry was held, horses were still able to go where the most modern of vehicles could not.
Focusing on the Allied Powers, Ernest Harold Baynes tells of “the work done by animals in helping to win the war,” recording the services and sacrifices borne by these noble animals and more, including the advent of chemical warfare and what it meant.
Ernest Harold Baynes (1868-1925) was an American writer and naturalist. After reporting for The New York Times, he regularly contributed articles to other newspapers and to magazines. A natural with wild animals, he became known for hand-rearing, protecting and championing their cause. Animal Heroes of the Great War was his last book.
Ernest Hemingway praised Her Privates We as “The finest and noblest book of men at war.” The classic novel of the Great War is set during the Battle of the Somme.
Her Privates We follows the story of Private Bourne, an ordinary soldier dealing with extraordinary circumstances. It conveys the camaraderie and heroism of the trenches and also explores the terror and monotony of being a soldier. A cloud of fatalism hangs over the narrative, which is brightened up through friendships, a shared, grim sense of humour and colourful conversations between the privates.
Bourne and his comrades must fight their demons within, as well as the enemy across No Man’s Land. Men die, but still a sense of duty endures. Her Privates We is as much a triumph of realism as it is of the imagination. Readers of both military history, and literary fiction, will continue to be haunted by its prose and insights.
“The book of books so far as the British army is concerned” T.E Lawrence
Frederic Manning was an Australian-born poet and novelist who moved to England at the age of 21. Much of his writing was inspired by his experiences in the infantry during the Great War. Her Privates We remains his most enduring work on the subject.
Delville Wood is the history of the one of the most bitterly contested battles on the Western Front and of the 3,200 soldiers of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade that entered the battle on 14 July 1916. Fewer than 800 mustered afterwards.
For six days and five nights, in the solitary square mile of Delville Wood, the South Africans stood firm against three crack German divisions. By the time they were relieved a legend had been born, but who were these men that took and held the wood in an inferno of exploding shells, flame-throwers, machine-gun and rifle fire? Fresh-faced youths, Boer War and South West African campaign veterans, enlistees with false names … all were volunteers whose overriding desire was to serve in France.
First published in 1983, Delville Wood remains a landmark volume commemorating the daring and fortitude of South Africa’s soldiers at the Somme during the First World War. In forming an overall picture of each day’s fighting through the words of the survivors, the statistics of battle are cast aside by Uys in favour of something altogether more profound, exploring their characters and ensuring they will never be forgotten
Ian Uys (b. 1942) is a South African accountant and author. A co-founder of the Military Medal Society of SA and former committee member of the SA Military History Society — and related to a survivor of the battle of Delville Wood — his interests have led him to write many books on the subject.
And, finally, a profile of the Desert Fox, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel, Rommel’s Great War by Gordon Corrigan.
Born in 1891, Rommel did not come from a militaristic family, nor from the military stronghold of Prussia, but instead from a small town in southern Germany and son to a long line of schoolmasters. Initially he showed no inclination towards a military career with interests in physics and engineering, but his father pushed him towards the army.
He joined the army in 1910 at the age of eighteen, within one year he would rise to the rank of sergeant. As war broke out in Europe Rommel and his regiment marched out of the barracks to the sound of drums and cheering as they boarded the troop train to the western front.
Gordon Corrigan provides expert analysis of World War I, both in terms of what it would have been like for a young officer like Rommel as well as the wider political and militaristic movements that were occurring at this time. This thoroughly researched profile gives fascinating detail on Rommel’s life, from when he was first shot and wounded in trench warfare, his experience of combat in the Romanian mountains and on the Italian front, through to his life after the war in the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic. It was in these years that the Desert Fox learned his trade and forged into Rommel such a formidable opponent during the Second World War.
Moving forward to World War II, today brings what is likely to be a short-term offer of Beyond the Shadow of War, the long awaited sequel to Diane Moody’s bestselling Of Windmills and War (currently, $4.99 USD).
When the war finally ended in May of 1945, Lieutenant Danny McClain made good on his promise to come back for Anya in Holland. He expected her to put up a fight, but instead found her exhausted and utterly broken. Maybe it was unfair, asking her to marry him when she was so vulnerable. But this much he knew: he would spend a lifetime helping to make her whole again.
The war had taken everything from Anya–her family, her friends, her home, her faith. She clung to the walls she’d fortressed around her heart, but what future did she have apart from Danny? At least she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Or so she thought. When the American troops demobilize, Danny is sent home, forced to leave Anya behind in England. There she must wait with the other 70,000 war brides for passage to America. As England picks up the pieces of war’s debris in the months that follow, Anya shares a flat with three other war brides in London and rediscovers the healing bond of friendships.
Once again, Danny and Anya find themselves oceans apart, their marriage confined to little more than the handwritten pages of their letters while wondering if the shadow of war will ever diminish.