Victoria Crosses on the Western Front, Third Ypres 1917

Victoria Crosses on the Western Front, Third Ypres 1917

Author
Paul Oldfield
ARRSE_Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This book details the awards to 70 soldiers (and here I mean officers and other ranks) of the Victoria Cross during Third Ypres from July to November 1917. The book is an enormous source of information on the people whose bravery lead to the award and runs to over 700 pages with maps and illustrations of the battle areas along with photographs of the land as it is now. This is obviously a work of passion by the author; the detailed information drills down so that you start to learn what these men were like, what their background was and, for those that survived the war, what they did post conflict. While the book is described by the author as a battlefield guide, which it is, it weighs in at nearly 2 kilos so is not something to lightly hold in your hand while carrying out your tour.

The book is basically split into two parts; the first being descriptions of the main engagements during the Third Battle of Ypres, of which there are nine, Chapter 1: Pilkem Ridge, Chapter 2: Local Operations in France August 1917– where VCs were won in areas other than Ypres but in the same time period, Chapter 3: Battle of Langemarck, Chapter 4: Local Operations in France September 1917, Chapter 5: Battle of the Menin Road, Chapter 6: Battle of Polygon Wood, Chapter 7: Battle of Broodseinde, Chapter 8: Battle of Poelcappelle and lastly Chapter 9: The Battle of Passchendaele. Each of these chapters tells the story of the battle and where the VC winner was during the battle along with his unit. The Chapter starts off by listing the VCs won during that phase of the Battle. These are short but detailed accounts accompanied by large scale maps. It might be of use to have a separate large map covering the area of Third Ypres, if such a thing exists. These Chapters are very good at setting the scene for the next part of the book.

Part Two is the biographies of the men who won the VC. Now normally in a book listing people who won the VC in particular battles you get a list of the people along with the citation, usually not lasting more than a page or two. Here the author has drilled into the lives of these men and come out with details of the person’s background, where they lived, were brought up and went to school. Who their parents were and occupations along with details of their siblings; and in those days large families were the norm. Even the list of siblings does not just stop at that, if there is something of note that his brothers or sisters have done then that is recorded. Then we get a thumbnail of the VC winner himself, giving his work prior to the war, if applicable, anything of note, what their war had been like up to this point along with the odd MC or MM awards (and it is probably not surprising that many VC winners also had these medals) and then the description of the act or acts for which the VC was awarded, including the citation. Where the soldier survived the war then we are given details of their career following the war, whether in the army or as a civilian. This sort of information does not just cover one or two pages and each biography is almost a chapter in its own right.

Apparently a committee decided that the award of the VC should be numbered, therefore the numbers for these men start at #225 Cpl Leslie Andrew 2nd Wellington Regt, NZ, however the biographies start with #226 Capt H Ackroyd RAMC, the author explains why the difference but it is not worth repeating in this short review. Capt Ackroyd’s story covers 10 pages. The next one is Cpl Andrew’s, which is eight pages long, but what a life he had. The youngest NZ VC winner, he was commissioned after winning the VC, and led the NZ detachment in the Victory Parade. After the war Andrew was demobbed but rejoined the permanent army and commanded the NZ detachment that Mounted Guard at Buckingham Palace in 1937, followed by attending the Coronation of King George VI the next day. In 1940 Andrew was promoted to command the 22nd Battalion 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force serving in Greece, Crete, North Africa. In his Bn he was known as “Old February” as his standard punishment was 28 days! While CO of the Bn one of his men also won the VC, Sgt Keith Elliot, so a VC holder was recommending one of his men for the award. Temporarily Andrew was given a Brigade which he lead in Libya, for which he was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO. After WW2 Andrew remained in the army, reaching Brigadier, before finally retiring in 1952. Asked to stand for Parliament he refused but spent a lot of his time on ex service charities. There is a lot more detail in his account which you can look up if you come across this book.

This sort of detailed account of the lives of the winners is repeated 69 times until all 70 have been given their full attention.

At the front of the book is an extensive Glossary which is very helpful. At the rear are very comprehensive notes on Sources for the information. This is followed by a few pages on Useful Information for those doing Battlefield Tours with information such as the phone number for the British Embassy in Paris plus general information regarding suitable clothing, accommodation, health matters, local holidays, all very useful indeed. Lastly is a very detailed Index covering 62 pages, so finding stuff in the book is very easy.

All in all, this is a superb book and the author is to be congratulated on such a detailed and interesting tome. If the Western Front is your bag then this book is a must, although at £40 it may just put you off slightly – you could always ask your local Library to get it in and borrow it! For the amount of detail though, £40 is a fair price. It is well written, well laid out, good maps and illustrations, and a great reference book for this period.
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Auld-Yin
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