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A year after the Battle of the Somme the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were tasked with pushing through Ypres in Belgium and occupyi...

The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 by Andrew Rawson The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 by Andrew Rawson

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


A year after the Battle of the Somme the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were tasked with pushing through Ypres in Belgium and occupying the high ground and ridge-lines to the East. This battle now known as the Battle of Passchendaele or the Third Battle of Ypres is succinctly covered in Andrew Rawson's latest book in the BEF series from Pen & Sword Publishing.

The book starts, just as the battle did, with a series of explosions in mines sunk beneath the Allied trenches and tunnelled underneath German defensive positions. Although the Germans were listening for the tell-tale sounds of boring machinery, they couldn't hear it because the mines were so deep and machinery wasn't involved. The author tells us that humans, literally 'diggers' were quieter and quicker than any machinery of the time.

Initial successes literally became stuck in the mud as the Flanders coast saw unprecedented rainfall throughout August. This left each side not only fighting each other but also the quagmire in which they lived and died.

I was expecting this book to be a bit of a slog (no pun intended) but the way in which the author breaks down each battle with an accompanying map into Divisions and Brigade level really helped my comprehension of what was happening. The author states that his inspiration for this approach came from a book about the American Civil War, 'A Testing of Courage'. I've not read that volume but I think Andrew has achieved his aim of clearly explaining the force disposition, terrain and outcome into a coherent narrative.

I've long known about the terrific amount of ordnance fired by artillery pieces throughout WWI but I've never read an account of how precisely it was integrated into the whole offensive. Not only that but I was surprised at how 'joint' were the separate military outfits. The Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, with the subterranean diggers, with the modern tank, alongside the ubiquitous infantryman all supported with artillery. The level of coordination between all of these services must have been immense and it was achieved primarily by runners and pigeons!

Passchendaele village before and after artillery barrage.
 A common artillery tactic mentioned frequently in the book was the artillery barrage. This served to soften up the German positions but scarily the infantry would hug the line of explosions and walk just behind the explosions in order to capitalise on the defenders turmoil. The numbers of shells fired, given by Mr Rawson are frankly terrifying to comprehend.

I found the prose to be rather terse as the author whips you through one Brigade of a Division then onto another very quickly. The briefest mentions of individual acts of bravery are given scant acknowledgement, with the oft repeated phrase '...for this he received the Victoria Cross'. I appreciated this style as it kept the book flowing along at a very steady clip. If nothing else, the book is a thorough account of the entire Flanders campaign in just over 200 pages.

Bovington Tank Museum diorama of combined arms during WWI
I would have liked more picture inserts as those that the author put in were just enough to whet my appetite. Their clarity was surprising and complemented the text very well.

If you're looking for a good introduction to the battles in and around Ypres then look no further.

Book: The Passchendaele Campaign 1917
Author: Andrew Rawson
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books

Liaison 1914 by Edward Spears Review    Those who know me or are regular readers will be well aware of my obsession with WWI. It go...

Liaison 1914 by E Spears Review Liaison 1914 by E Spears Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Liaison 1914 by Edward Spears Review


 Those who know me or are regular readers will be well aware of my obsession with WWI. It goes without saying that I'm going to have a fairly extensive WWI book collection, though I've said it just in case:). Only a handful of those books I'd class as poor or were difficult to get through, on the other hand a good number of them I thoroughly enjoyed and I'd really struggle to make a list of my top ten without feeling I'd left out many books well worthy of a place in the list. Then we have those that wouldn't just be in my top ten WWI books but be in my non-fiction military history top ten list and, finally, a handful would be vying for a place in my all time favourite books ever, no matter the subject matter or genre. Carry on reading to see where I'd place Liaison 1914.


 The book is a fairly hefty tome at 469 pages and a further 119 pages of Appendices and Index. Altogether 589 pages to delve into (see, I can count and add up). The book is a narrative of the authors time in Belgium and France as liaison officer between the British and the French. At  the time Edward Spears was a young, highly literate lieutenant with the Royal Irish Hussars, but due to his fluency in French he was made liaison officer between Field Marshal Sir John French the British Expeditionary Force commander (BEF) and the French High Command. As you can imagine, he was in a fantastic position to understand what was going on at the time, most likely better than anyone else on the Entente side at that time. This means this book, his narrative of the retreat from ⚔ Mons, a retreat that could have wiped out the BEF before they even started, would\should make an engrossing read, a real page turner...and it does, with bells on! 


 All the major Entente players in France and Belgium make an appearance at some point to a greater or lesser degree. He manages to bring these men, with such immense responsibility on their shoulders, to life just as well as any great author. You can really get a grasp of their personalities, including both good points and their flaws. He also manages to convey to the reader the urgency and perilous nature of the circumstances he and the Entente as whole found themselves in at the time, not helped by the inherent  mistrust (remember until now France had always been the British natural enemy and it had been Prussians i.e Germans who had saved the day for us against the French 99 years previously at Waterloo) which at times broke out into anger between Sir John French and commander of the French armies, Joseph Joffre.  This obviously didn't help the situation and it was more luck, excellent low level leadership and bravery of the men at the frontline that managed to save the day and put the Entente into a position where they could strike back, which they did do with the famous battle of ⚔ The Marne and then the so called Race to the Sea, until both sides were worn out and dug in. Digging-in created the famous trench system that ran from the northern coast right down to Switzerland, though this is beyond the scope of the book which ends on September 14th.

 For me, this book in particular really brought to life those historic days and helped me understand not only what was going on during that near disastrous period of the War but also how it must have felt on the ground for those involved. When I read military history books, memoirs in particular, I always have a feeling I'm listening to ghosts from the past, many cut down during or not long after the events told, but in a small way still alive on the pages of the book, so they aren't forgotten.

 Edward Spears was one of the first British officers in France due to the nature of his role and, over the course of the War, he continued to serve as liaison officer. He had been wounded four times by the time the War ended and had earned a chest full of medals and awards, he managed to survive the War. I truly wish he'd written several volumes to cover his entire War experience, but sadly that's not going to happen. Before his death at the good age of 87 in January 1974 he had been interviewed for the BBC's famous and "must watch" 1964 documentary The Great War and so appeared several times over the course of that excellent documentary. He also appeared in one episode of the WWII documentary, A World at War, talking about his WWII experience. If you search the web you can find some of his Great War interview clips.

So at the start of this review I talked about the WWI books I've read and where this one would go with regards to my top ten list. Well I can't say what number it would be but I will say it's a definite for my all time top ten books of any genre! As for just WWI books, it easily deserves a place in my top five! Anyone with the slightest bit of interest in WWI must at some point read Liaison 1914. I'd even recommend it as a great read to those who haven't shown any interest in the War, though I reckon by the end of it this would be the first book of many they'll end up reading about the War:) Go out and treat yourself to a copy, or if you know of someone who can't decide what to get you for Xmas then look no further!

Thanks for your time. Until the next time have fun, oh nearly forgot, have a Happy Xmas and New Year!

A quick mention of a good companion read A Frenchman in Khaki by P Maze