Images of war: The French Army in the Great War

Images of war: The French Army in the Great War

David Bilton
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
According to the blurb, David Bilton's Images of war: The French Army in the Great War aims to "provide a highly readable account of the work of the French Army on the Western Front, as well as... a wealth of photographs that show the daily life of the French soldier" and to "...give a concise overview of the war seen through French eyes...".

To do this, the book opens with two chapters, on Background and The French Army at War. These are concise and clear. The latter is a good short review of the French war on the Western Front whilst the former focuses on the historical antecedents of the French Army, briefly exploring its organisation, tactical doctrine and equipment. These chapters are interesting, if brief, but weakened a little by a reliance on unsourced quotations.

The meat of the book is nearly 200 pages of good quality large-format black and white photographs showing a wide range of aspects of the French Army at war, principally on the Western Front. These photographs are supported by simple, direct captions. These convey enough information to cover the salient points and contain much of interest, although some readers would probably welcome more information on equipment visible. The large paperback format shows these interesting photographs to good effect.

There appears to be a rough chronological ordering but there is no obvious attempt to deal with the subject by chapter, year, theatre or theme, even though there is some grouping evident, such as railway artillery in the middle of the book and casualties and medical care at the end. This is unlike another Images of War book, The French Army on the Somme, and I think this book is weaker for it.

The book is only intermittently paginated, to support the occasional use of cross-references. There is no index. There is a brief bibliography at the end, relying quite heavily on older works.

The written portions of the book present a readable, if brief, account of the French Army's war on the Western Front. The photographs lift the book considerably, even without the more disciplined thematic or chronological approach to organisation I would have preferred. Overall, despite its limitations, worth acquiring.

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