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Wilson's War - Sir Henry Wilson's influence on British Military Policy in the Great War...

Wilson's War - Sir Henry Wilson's influence on British Military Policy in the Great War...

John Spencer
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
John Spencer was a journalist, latterly Managing Editor of the Press Association. He has an MA in First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham and completed his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton under the supervision of Professor Gary Sheffield. His main interest is in the strategy of the Great War. While he has contributed chapters to books edited by Spencer Jones, this book is his first and is based on his research for his PhD.

There is no denying that Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson was a controversial character. It becomes evident, after reading the Foreword and Introduction, that there is more depth to Wilson than popular belief would have it, mine included. As the author makes clear, his was not an exceptional story, and the pre First World War Army was full of cliques and groups associated with patronage and influence.

The author has structured the book to put some of these controversies surrounding Wilson before the chronological narrative. While this way of organising this book could cause some hopping between pages, I found that it enhanced my reading because I was more aware of the debate before engaging with the bulk of the narrative explanation.

The book thereafter is straightforward to navigate. Each chapter following the first follows Wilson’s life from his time after his appointment as Director of Military Operations, post command of the Army Staff College, from 1908 onwards. We then follow his trajectory through his First World War appointments, ending as CIGS IN 1918. A short final chapter deals with the end of the war and Wilson’s future thoughts on defending the empire.

The depth of Spencer’s research is evident throughout this book. It is also to his credit that he often lets the facts speak for themselves, and does not add nor detract from them. It is easily readable and, for example, there is only one page of explanation of abbreviations. Footnotes support the text and there is large bibliography and useful index if one wants to select individual aspects.

Overall, I think that this is a very useful book for understanding the Great War and Henry Wilson’s part in it. It puts into greater context just how Wilson came to be the figure he was and his relationships with others within his circle of influence. I now have an entirely different perspective on this aspect from when I started the book.

215 pages, not including introduction. Bibliography, illustrations and index.

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