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Victoria Crosses on the Western Front 1917 to Third Ypres

Paul Oldfield
This book is one of a series by the author, who became interested in the VC actions during his army career, and covers the period January to July 1917. In the first half of the book, each VC action is described in detail with trench maps current at the time, photographs of the sites today, old photographs, and detailed descriptions of where to park if you are visiting the battlefield. The actions are set in the context of overall strategy for the day/week in question and I found this very useful.

For a person with no military training some of the descriptions are quite complex and it took me a long time to read this part of the book, as I was constantly referring back to maps. Some of the maps don’t show all the places referenced in the text, which I found frustrating at times. However it is a comprehensively researched volume and I learned a lot about the actions, the men and their bravery. It’s also interesting that some sites are preserved and others are now lost or buried under industrial sites. Without this book as a companion it would be difficult to find those.

The second half of the book is a biography of each of the VC winners, with information about where they were born, their families, occupations and a little of their military history. I found this fascinating, and was amazed that quite a few of the VCs had relatives who also won gallantry medals – is it genetic? It also increased my understanding of why so many of our colonial soldiers volunteered to serve Great Britain, as they or their parents had emigrated from here, and it was still close to their hearts. I was interested that several of them had been ‘bad boys’ in their military career, including one who was docked two day’s pay for taking a mule without consent!

I liked that the author had taken time to find out what happened to the survivors after the event, so many just went back into their former life quietly as if they hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. In an age where some people can earn lifelong fame and massive fortunes by kicking a football and hiring a PR company, this is unusual.

I would recommend this book to anyone planning to visit the Western Front battlefields, and to anyone with an interest in ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Five mushroom heads

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