When I received this book I was quite surprised at the physical weight as its hefty, but even a quick glance will show that it needs to be to encompass the exhaustive research carried out by the author. The text inside is laid out in column format and there is a wealth of photographs, illustrations and maps. The column format I found slightly annoying at first and even though there is an abundance of ilustrations some are just to small too rightly do justice to what they are trying too convey, if like me your eyesights been ruined by years of peering at C2 sights in poor light, trying to make out prominent points in photos which are just the width of a column is a struggle and slightly frustrating. Maybe its the final confirmation that I really need to invest in a large magnifying glass. Enough of the physical description lets get on with the reveiw. My own interst in this period is try and get a flavour of what my grandfather, who fought in the Tank Corps in WW1 went through, he died before my mother and father met, otherwise I would not be here as a good Lodge member he would have ensured my Irish Papist mother didn't sully his close or doorstep
- Paul Kendall
The author Paul Kendall is the great grandson of 44291 Pte William Kendell, killed in action whilst serving with the 22nd Manchester Regiment on 13th May 1917, and the book is dedicated to both his memory and to Jean and Denise Letaile and the villagers of Bullecourt who have kept alive the memory of those Australian and British soldiers who fought and died in the battles of April and May 1917. In my own opinion his closeness to the battle and obvious personal interest has, again just my opinion, coloured his perceptions and analysis of the senior commanders involved in the planning, command and control of the battle.
He sets the scene for the first battle on the 11th April 1917, by taking us through the preceding events which led to and shaped the events which properly start with chapter 6 The Prelude to Battle, he more than adequately shows how we arrive at this point and how the Tank has came from conception to the deployment of unarmoured Mk II training Tanks to provide support for the Infantry assault. A separate chapter deals with the opposing commanders, while Gough and Birdwood as commanders of the Fifth Army and ANZAC respectively are covered only including Ludendorff, by this time Quartermaster General of the Imperial German Army seems disjointed, I would have preferred further depth on the German's local commanders and not just another resume of Ludendorff's war.
Once into the battle proper he covers the 4th and 12th Brigades assaults separately and goes into detail of describing the events and characters who are central to the narrative and events. With excellent descriptions of pivotal events which he has compiled from numerous sources to try and establish, as much as humanely possible so long after the event, the facts as they were. This includes using other's research especially where he believes this is the most accurate available, as with the deployment and eventual fate of each Tank deployed, where using original research from another he fleshes out with accounts from other sources to try and establish as full a picture as possible. The coverage of the aftermath of the battle is covered in just as much detail with coverage of both the recovery of both wounded and the dead but also the fate of those captured by the Germans.
The second battle is covered in equal detail, its clear that the author has exhuastively researched all records available to him in writing this account of both of the battles. Again the preperation, events and aftermath of the battle is covered in extensive detail with excerpts from Regimental War diaries, personal correspondence, written accounts from participants and the accounts from surviving family members recalling the details their relatives conveyed to them. After the accounts of the battle there is also descriptions of the various memorials and CWGC cemeteries in the area. It was quite poignant reading accounts of actions almost 100 years to the day, and personally I found the accounts of the Tank crews most interesting as my own Grandfather served in the Tank Corps in WW1.
Throughout there is numerous photographs and accounts of the participants both those killed during the battle and those who survived. Which are quite revealing as to the sheer number of casualties whose remains were never recovered, whilst the bald statistics may indeed tell the truth this conveyed it more than reading a bald statement that ten thousand missing are listed on a memorial, to see the picture and know their family spent years trying to discovr any news at all of their final resting place is indeed a sobering thought. the description of the recovery and subsequent reinternment of one of he missing is again rather poignant.
All in all it's an excellent read about one of the less well known battles in 1917, I would highly recommend it and give it 4 out of 5 Mushroom heads.