Saturday, 14 January 2017

Book Review: Victoria Crosses on the Western Front - Somme 1916

I have a bookshelf at home which is rapidly becoming a VC shelf. Having collected the Gerald Gliddon series when those books were published in the 1990s, I'm now adding to that with these newer 100th anniversary releases by Pen & Sword.

I should state, perhaps, that I do not have a particular interest in the Victoria Cross - although anyone owning a VC which they no longer require should not hesitate to contact me if they wish to give it away to a good home. The beauty of these books though is that the detail they give goes far beyond the individual actions which resulted in the award of this most prestigious of British gallantry awards.

I felt at the time that the Gerald Gliddon books were a terrific addition to military libraries, and I still think this. The Pen & Sword series, authored by Paul Oldfield, goes a few steps further, however, both in terms of the textual detail supplied and in the contextual detail. It is this latter information - and particularly the maps - which make these books so useful to those with a general interest in the First World War, or for that matter, a specific interest in an action or British Army unit.

As a case in point - and I am picking this example at random - take 3/5027 Private Thomas Hughes of the 6th Battalion, Connaught Rangers, who won his VC for his actions at Guillemont on the 3rd September 1916. Over seven pages in chapter four, the Battle of Guillemont between 3rd and 6th September is detailed, and there is a great map which puts the actions very clearly into context. My version of the map, below, hastily snapped on my phone, certainly does not do justice to this, but I would suggest that the maps are one of the most helpful features of this book.

It is also worth pointing out that these books double as guide books with, in this instance, instructions to "Leave Guillemont northwest on the D20 towards Longueval. After 300m park in the entrance to the silos on the left..." and so on. (I must say though, that at over 500 pages, I'd be taking the Kindle version with me to France, rather than the hardback book).

This book follows the same format as others in this series: actions described in the first half, biographies of the participants detailed in the second part. There are two pages, with illustrations and photographs of Private Hughes, much further in.

These books are well illustrated and well-indexed, which always gets a thumbs up from me. Furthermore there is also an extensive bibliography. The only problem I have is shelf-space, a dilemma I am solving today by buying another bookcase. Incidentally, the Gliddon books are still worth getting hold of. I checked what he had to say about Thomas Hughes and there are photos and illustrations included in his book which have not made it into Pen and Sword's more recent publication.

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